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This Is 40

A little Judd Apatow goes a long way.

DIRECTED BY JUDD APATOW

There’s a decent movie kicking around somewhere in This Is 40, but good luck finding it. Since The 40-Year-Old Virgin (if not earlier), Judd Apatow has been at the forefront of a kind of observational middle-class tragicomedy that’s since been taken up by other filmmakers as disparate as Seth Rogen and Lena Dunham. This Is 40 pushes even further in the direction of personal anecdote than 2009’s overlong but interesting Funny People, an insider’s look at the comedy scene in which Apatow learned his craft. But This Is 40 approaches the subject matter less successfully, dialling up the confessional details and blasting the volume to substitute for insight.

The film revisits Pete and Debbie, Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann’s squabbling couple from Knocked Up—along with their children, Apatow’s actual daughters with Mann—in a more contentious phase of their marriage. Pete and Debbie’s marital crisis worked as a plausible emotional counterpoint to Rogen’s nascent romance with Katherine Heigl in Knocked Up, but Apatow seems lost without that structural touchstone to orient his leads this time. As if embarrassed by the occasional cruelty of their fights and the messy problems that drive them—loaning a deadbeat dad $80,000 while in dire straits is no small matter, even if the dad is Albert Brooks—Apatow throws Pete and Debbie up against a rotating cast of bit players in glib side episodes that bloat the film to 135 minutes and distract from the more involving thread about how the couple’s mutual hostility affects their daughters.

Rudd and Mann are likable enough, but despite the autobiographical winks and nudges, they’re stuck playing cartoons—the Apatow vision of the archetypal 40-something man and woman, respectively. It’s no surprise that both archetypes are white, wealthy, and constitutionally incapable of uttering the word “abortion” (as in Knocked Up). This is a problem in a film whose title courts universal identification. If this is 40, viewers under the threshold ought to brace themselves for an endless procession of swanky birthday parties, iPads, and adult-contemporary music, all with a soupçon of marital discord.

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