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Entries in This is 40 [2012] (1)

Friday
Dec282012

This is 40 (2012)

Sad People

Last Christmas, my in-laws gave my wife and I a financial-planning book by Dave Ramsey. We were up to our eyeballs in credit card debt, barely paying off a car, and putting about as much money into savings as faith in Miley Cyrus' Oscar-nomination prospects. Still, we had two incomes and miles of magical plastic dollars with which to make any emergencies (momentarily) disappear; in other words, zero reason to change.

Early this year, my wife lost her job and it took nearly five months for her to receive unemployment benefits--leaving me as the sole bread-winner for us and our toddler. Two nights after the news hit, we dug the Ramsey book out from under a mountain of old bill stubs and cracked it open. I no longer sneered at the frequent Biblical passages or laughed out loud at the cornpone, too-outrageous-to-be-true testimonials; it was time to get serious about the direction our lives were headed in, and Ramsey had some great ideas.

STOP!

There's no need to hit "Refresh". You have, in fact, loaded my review of Judd Apatow's This is 40, and not an infomercial. Context is key in any critique, which is why I included that bit of personal history. Had I seen this comedy a year ago, I likely would have still found it extremely unfunny--but not as offensive as I do today.

The movie stars Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd as Debbie and Pete. They were the "adult" sidekicks in 2007's Knocked Up, which was about a twenty-something loser forced to grow up when his one-night-stand turned into an eighteen-year commitment. The couple has a huge house, two kids, and a Beemer and a Lexus in the driveway, all thanks to Pete's years as a Sony Music executive. Since we last saw them, Pete has left the corporate world to start an indie label and Debbie divides her time between watching their daughters and managing the boutique clothing shop they co-own.

The trouble is, Pete has been hiding his label's shaky financial status from Debbie, along with $80,000 in personal loans to his deadbeat dad (Albert Brooks), and a delinquent home mortgage. Meanwhile, Debbie suffers near-crippling anxiety over her own dark little secret: she's turning 40! Actually, she and Peter are hitting the Big Four-oh in the same week, but she insists that everyone help celebrate her thirty-eighth birthday. Yes, until all the money problems come out at the film's half-way mark, that vain, sitcom-level nonsense passes for a major plot point.

Not to worry, though: This is 40 is a virtual side-story roulette wheel. From Peter and Debbie's meddling in eldest daughter Sadie's (Maude Apatow) Facebook drama; to their suspicions that comely store employee Desi (Megan Fox) is ripping them off; to Peter's quest to revitalize the career of soon-to-be-hipster-deity Graham Parker; to Apatow's famous Superfluous Third-Act Curveball, the movie plays as if Apatow made mini-movies out every circle on his idea board and loosely tied them together in the editing process.

That might have been okay had the dialogue been solid and the characters interesting. But Apatow, who wrote and directed this thing, is guilty of giving quality actors and comedians nothing of substance to work with. I don't know forty-year-olds like Peter and Debbie, and I'll bet that's true for ninety-nine percent of the people who will pay to see this movie. Nearly everyone on-screen plays a Conservative caricature of the Hollywood liberal: rich, self-obsessed, clueless, and convinced that banning gluten from the family diet constitutes heroism.

This isn't 40. This is 25 going on 12. Peter and Debbie don't talk to each other, except to fight. Their daughters are completely out of control, probably because mom and dad would rather attempt marriage counseling via oral sex than drive them to school on-time. And every other word out of almost everyone's mouth is "fuck". I'm no prude when it comes to language, but if the point of a movie is to say, "these are real people having relatable, real-life experiences", I'm sorry, but this degree of pre-teen-level swearing simply rings false.

It's so disappointing, too, because I genuinely like the performers. Rudd spent much of his early career playing characters who would absolutely rail against a navel-gazing, out-of-touch yahoo like Peter. So to see him disappear into such a whiny, personality-free shell is heartbreaking. He played a version of this guy in the far-superior and heartfelt Wanderlust earlier this year; the key difference being the amount of time it took the two characters to realize their shallowness (in Peter's case, the meter is still running).

Mann fares slightly better, if only because she pretty much only plays versions of Debbie. This slim, fit ray of sass with the sun-kissed complexion is fine as a comic foil, but I just can't feel the impact of a midlife crisis that involves whiter teeth and a slightly firmer ass. Everything else that's wrong in her marriage has nothing to do with aging; it's a simple matter of acting like she's married (i.e. paying attention to household finances, asking questions without yelling, etc., etc., etc.).

At least the leads invest heavily in their performances. Almost everyone else in This is 40 skates by on the comedy cred of appearing in a Judd Apatow film. Here's the thing: cameos by funny people don't work unless they generate laughs with the material. Charlyne Yi's turn as cinema's eight-millionth Mousy Asian With a Secret Wild Side is more like product placement than acting.** Likewise, for all the comedic value they add to the proceedings, Chris O'Dowd and Jason Segel might as well have been replaced by two camera-facing bottles of Pepsi. Whether it was a matter of the script being poor, the actors not caring enough to improve it, or the director not giving them the leeway to do so, there's not a "hot comedic talent" on screen whose success I could explain if the need arose.

My wife and I are not yet in our forties, but we've been together for roughly the same amount of time as the film's protagonists. Like Peter and Debbie, we've faced relationship issues, self-doubt, and financial struggles, and are sure to encounter even greater horrors in the decades ahead. But we have sense enough not to exacerbate our problems by shutting each other out and keeping secrets. It took hard work, sacrifice, and communication to become debt-free within what has turned out to be a very challenging year, but we did it. Coming out of the theatre, we were puzzled as to why no one in the film had any brains, decency, or heart.

My only guess is that the title was shortened from This is 40, You Privileged Assholes

*In Funny People, he transformed a movie about stand-up comedy into a bickering-couple picture. Here, he derails a bickering-couple picture by introducing Debbie's absentee father (John Lithgow) and turning forty minutes of the film into an exercise in blame-skirting and projection.

**Yes, she has a bowl haircut, wears giant 80s eyeglasses and says "shockingly" foul-mouthed things in a mumbly monotone. Hilahhhhrious.