Judd Apatow's last movie as a director was Funny People, which attempted to plumb the psyche of a stand-up comedian with a terminal illness. He returns to the edgy rom-com territory of The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up with This Is 40, a good-natured and warmhearted but only intermittently funny look at middle-aged domesticity.
This Is 40 is actually a sequel of sorts to Knocked Up, but instead of focusing on that film's main characters played by Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl, Apatow follows their married friends Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann, Apatow's real-life wife). It's five years later and Pete and Debbie, both of whom are approaching their 40th birthdays, are in the midst of a midlife crisis. The indie record label Pete owns is struggling, Debbie's clothing store seems to be doing only marginally better (and one of the employees is a thief), and they've got two headstrong daughters to raise (played by Apatow's real-life daughters). The fire that once provided the heat to their marriage has been reduced to a flickering flame.
Unlike in some of the previous films with which Apatow has been associated as either director or producer, there are no shocking or gross-out moments, unless you consider Pete taking his iPad to the bathroom with him a household capital crime. No one's hairy chest is getting waxed ( The 40-Year-Old Virgin), and no bridesmaids relieve themselves in bathroom sinks ( Bridesmaids, of course). This Is 40 plays out more like real life, and while it's admirable that Apatow, who also wrote the script, hasn't shoehorned in outrageousness just for the sake of it, there's not enough here to justify the 134-minute running time.
The most shocking element -- for those whose knowledge of rock music runs deep enough to know the British scene of the late '70s -- is how good Graham Parker remains. A once-celebrated rock 'n' roll bad boy who never quite crossed over to America, the now-62-year-old Parker, playing himself, is signed to Pete's label and gets to perform with his old band, the Rumour. It's a nice touch and a cool shout-out to those who, like Apatow, have an affinity for rock 'n' roll underdogs.
It's also good to see Apatow working with veteran actors like Albert Brooks (who plays Pete's financially distressed dad) and John Lithgow (Debbie's emotionally distant dad), both of whom turn in strong performances.
There are some chuckle-worthy small moments, as when Pete and Debbie argue over Pete's use of a drug to enhance his sexual performance or when Pete is trying to figure out how to keep his record label alive. His wife and kids want him to move in a more LMFAO or Rihanna direction. Pete's not having it.
But there are few laugh-out-loud scenes. Yet maybe that's the point. That life isn't about the grand gesture but the little day-to-day details that keep us grounded and human.
Still, it seems as if Apatow could've been just slightly more succinct in making that point. At least there are no hobbits involved.
Cary Darling, 817-390-7571