Saturday, 24 January 2015

This is Life

DVD Notes: "This is 40"

Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd in "This is 40"

This is 40 is the “sort-of sequel” to writer-director Judd Apatow’s 2007 feature, Knocked Up. That very funny film stars Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen as a young, just-promoted television personality and a slacker, respectively, dealing with a pregnancy as a result of a drunken one-night stand. It uses much profanity and dirty-talk to mask great tenderness and unease, and pokes fun at certain aspects of contemporary society, like the bromance, and the fear that young, immature men have of self-possessed women. But Apatow reaches far deeper into a person's life, and into life itself, and this is what often goes unnoticed by most viewers and critics as well.

Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann (Apatow’s wife) reprise their roles of "the other couple" from Knocked Up, Pete and Debbie. A few other characters also reappear, like Jason (Jason Segel), who still openly hits on Debbie, Jodi (Charlyne Yi), one of the girlfriends in Knocked Up and now an employee at Debbie’s boutique, Dr Pellegrino (Tim Bagley), Debbie’s gynaecologist, and Pete and Debbie’s daughters, Sadie and Charlotte (played by Apatow and Mann’s real-life daughters, Maude and Iris Apatow). The film also features performances by other brilliant comics, including Melissa McCarthy, Chris O'Dowd (both of Bridesmaids fame), Lena Dunham (from Girls), John Lithgow (Lord Farquaad in Shrek) and Albert Brooks (Marlin in Finding Nemo) as Pete’s dad. In a category on her own, for reasons known to everyone who’s seen her – which, incidentally, are the same reasons she’s been used in the film – is Megan Fox as Desi, Debbie’s other boutique employee, who works on the side as an escort.

This first-rate ensemble cast is not unusual in an Apatow film. He has transformed comedy, through his own films and those he’s produced (such as Get Him to the Greek, Bridesmaids and the two Anchorman films) by hiring stellar comedians, who are also fantastic improvisers. For most of Hollywood’s history, comedies’ humour was achieved by writers who held meetings where they came up with jokes and funny scenarios, and the movie stars they hired acted them out, straining their instincts and training to get the timing and diffidence of each line reading just right. Now Apatow has written outlines for each scene, and allowed the actors to improvise their dialogue, and bring on the hilarity themselves. Many takes are shot, and the actors alter the nuances of the scene in response to other actors, and new reactions they may get to the material. This restricts the shooting style of the film – cameras can’t move, because it would mess up the continuity in the editing, and the editing must be precise, with the exact right timing to deliver the punch of each spontaneous joke – and so these scenes can’t reach the level of dynamism or mobility you would find in, say, a Scorsese project. But this isn’t a fault – far from it. The style is less self-conscious this way, and the actors talk and move (or don’t move) and behave the way people would in a real-world situation. Each scene feels like you’re looking through a window at this couple’s lives.

The film takes place over a week: the week in which both Pete and Debbie turn forty. We open on Debbie’s birthday, with her telling herself and her family that she isn’t forty, repeating it so many times it’s impossible to think she’s anything but forty, as well as not to feel for her. She is determined not to quickly and quietly age into someone who begrudges and regrets the loss of her youth, while Pete still behaves somewhat like a moody schoolboy, hiding things from his wife, and sneaking away to indulge in an illicit cupcake (he has cholesterol problems) or extended periods in the bathroom away from his familial responsibilities (playing Candy Crush, or Words With Friends). They live like a typical, upper-middle American couple, and now, as if companions to anxiety about aging, come along a string of problems. They encounter substantial financial worries (which Pete keeps from Debbie for much of the film); after a series of routine breast, testicular, dental, prostate, gynaecological and colonic check-ups, one of them is given shocking, game-changing, if not quite bad, news; their eldest daughter, Sadie, is in the middle of the throes of puberty, which leads to much fighting and unhappy mood swings every day; Pete’s dad is always asking to borrow money to support his new family, and Debbie’s dad has been absent for most of her life, and is now trying, with utmost awkwardness, to rectify it; and both Pete and Debbie have to deal with considerable difficulties at the business each of them owns. Mann and Apatow reportedly collaborated on the script, and presumably snuck some of their own frustrations and arguments into a few scenes. This is 40 is a raucously entertaining, but ultimately tender portrait of a marriage constantly in flux. There are no cheap romantic sequences, no false sentiments anywhere.

Megan Fox showing off her body, to Leslie Mann's bemusement and the audience's delight


  1. Nice review Jared. I agree that the movie's honesty is one of its better traits.


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