REVISITING 40, WITH A SIDE ORDER OF THE GUILT TRIP
By Kelly Laymon
With THIS IS 40 (released on Friday, December 21, 2012), writer-director Judd Apatow revisits some familiar territory: Deb and Pete from his 2007 hit KNOCKED UP. The two were played by Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd, and even KNOCKED UP left us feeling less of those two was more. Other than that family (Rudd, Apatow’s wife Mann, and their two children) and a few bit players such as Jason Segel and Charlyne Yi reprising their KNOCKED UP roles, there’s little else connecting the two films. There is a passing reference to Seth Rogen’s character, Ben, about how some pot cookies ended up in their possession. Other than that, Ben and Allison (Katherine Heigl’s character) are mostly forgotten. Not even Joanna Kerns returns as Allison and Deb’s mother, whereas John Lithgow shows up as their father.
THIS IS 40 finds us back at Debbie and Pete’s house, along with their two children, played by Mann and Apatow’s real life daughters. It is the week both Deb and Pete turn 40. Of course, Mann’s character is in a comedic level of denial and demanding to be 38. Pete has left Sony since KNOCKED UP and is running his own very niche independent label, with some wacky employees, which is struggling. Deb has opened a trendy clothing and jewelry boutique and has wacky employees. Those wacky employees are made up of, in no particular order, Lena Dunham, Megan Fox, Chris O’Dowd, and Charlyne Yi.
I predicted THIS IS 40. When FUNNY PEOPLE (2009) was a critical and commercial bomb, I knew his next film would be a study in overly safe mediocrity. Rather than feeling like a single coherent thought, the film plays more like a sitcom. Punchline, punchline, boom, boom, boom. If ayou watch Judd Apatow’s DVDs, he often includes an extra called “Line-O-Rama,” which gives us a series of different punchlines or reactions to the same joke or punchline. Only this time, he included much of the blooper reel in the actual film. Each time he used two of three punchlines for the same observation, I wanted to scream. “You Know How I Know You’re Gay” was classic in THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN (2005), but I don’t need that style of joke repeated over and over. That style of comedy and editing can be used sparingly. Don’t overdo it. One of the main strengths of Judd Apatow-related comedies is the realistic dialogue that sounds like you and your buddies. THIS IS 40 is a bit too punchline-driven and sitcom-ish. I found myself constantly pulled out of it by the attempts at laughs.
As I mentioned, there are a few solid cameos by comedic actors such as Melissa McCarthy, O’Dowd, and Dunham. But if you don’t really like Melissa McCarthy or Lena Dunham, it’s wasted. Lena Dunham’s as funny as a warm mushy bowl of Corn Flakes. And Melissa McCarthy bashes you on your head with her loud style of “humor”. Chris O’Dowd’s small part as one of Rudd’s co-workers is one of the most well-used cameos. Megan Fox serves almost no purpose beyond highlighting Mann’s childless and happenin’ potential and serving a D-level plotpoint. Everything else felt like there was too much, and yet too little. If the DVD has a great five hour cut, I’ll back-step.
I felt like I was being rushed from one “funny” scene to another “funny” scene, connection to reality be damned. Perhaps it is because of that rush from funny-to-funny that the two hour and fifteen minute film didn’t feel that long. It speeds by.
I didn’t feel the heart that I did with, say, THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN, FUNNY PEOPLE, or the Apatow-produced FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL (2008) or BRIDESMAIDS (2011). Or even the fantastic, yet non-Apatow I LOVE YOU, MAN (2009). THIS IS 40 didn’t have the emotional and grounded whole, like the others.
On the other hand, I also went out and saw THE GUILT TRIP on that opening weekend. If you’d like to enjoy some light humor that’s a bit more clever than your standard fare, THE GUILT TRIP is worth it.
In THE GUILT TRIP, Seth Rogen plays an organic chemist who has created a completely safe and green cleaning solvent. Due to an ice cream confessional with his mother, played by Barbara Streisand, he decides to include her on his big cross-country sales pitch trip.
Of course, they butt heads and wackiness ensues. Drunken bar fights, helpful strippers, a steak eating challenge, visits with past loves, etc.. But the laughs are more genuine, even if the set-ups are pretty standard “odd couple” problems. They still don’t feel as forced and overplayed as in THIS IS 40. Sure, the ending is easily seen coming up Broadway on New Year’s Eve, but it’s still satisfying. And any grown adult in their thirties who’s had their mother yell at them in public about “that mouth and language” will appreciate the very real squabbles mothers and their grown children get into.
Don’t enter either film with grand expectations. THE GUILT TRIP, however, is the more enjoyable of the two.
© Copyright 2013 by Kelly Laymon