It may just be me getting older, but it seems like Hollywood used to make more movies for grown-ups. Movies like “Semi-Tough (1977),” “Murphy‘s Romance (1985),” and “The Last Married Couple in America (1980)” are delightfully comical, but also rather clear-eyed looks at middle age. “This is 40” is Judd Apatow’s attempt to bring that genre back. I applaud the effort, even if it is not his best work.
The film picks up on the lives of a couple of characters from “Knocked Up.” Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann), the bickering married couple with two kids, are both turning forty. Debbie isn’t handling this well, of course, because as she explained to us in “Knocked Up,” getting older is harder for a woman. (Newsflash!) Also, she’s a bit of a shrew. Things aren’t going that well for Pete either. His independent record label is losing money despite having signed Graham Parker (a 1970’s rocker who we are apparently supposed to have heard of). Pete’s dad (Albert Brooks) keeps hitting him up for money, and one of Debbie’s employees is stealing money from her boutique.
Debbie has a line in the film where she says the ages between 40 and 60 are reportedly the happiest in people’s lives. You finally have everything you need, and you are young enough to enjoy it. It may be true. By forty, most of us have a partner, kids, a good job, money in the bank, and a home. Unfortunately, we spend every waking hour worrying about those people and things, hoping we can keep all those balls in the air. “This is 40” is uneven as a comedy and as a romance, but it does capture how, even for people with a relatively good life, life ain’t easy.
There is a school of snark that loves to criticize movies and books that are perceived as being about whiny people living privileged lives. “This is 40” is one of those movies about what these critics like to call “1st World problems.” I can understand the sentiment. We who have plenty to eat should try to remember to be grateful. These are our lives, though, folks! Our European ancestors toiled for centuries to create a society so peaceful and prosperous that men of my generation can obsess about how our assholes look. We have so much food that we get to worry about which foods are the healthiest. Our kids aren’t being forced to fight in civil wars or sell their bodies, so we get to worry about how much time they spend on the internet. There is nothing wrong with telling these stories, and Judd Apatow generally does it as well as anyone.
“This is 40” never reaches the hilarious heights of “The 40-year-old Virgin” and isn’t even as good as “Knocked Up,” but it definitely has its moments. Apatow demonstrates once again that he knows how to tell 1st World stories with just the right mix of humor and tenderness.
3 stars out of 5