There exists a preference of those who write a film that may be semi-autobiographical to write a sequel to it, serving as a sort of refocusing of where we find the characters in their lives. It works in some areas, and doesn't in others. One could conceivably make the case that the main characters in Judd Apatow's Knocked Up were based on his experiences in having a child and their impact on those people. But the truer identities for Apatow and his wife were in Pete and Debbie, played by Paul Rudd (I Love You Man) and Apatow's wife Leslie Mann. Pete and Debbie return for a feature of their own in Apatow's own revisiting on where he is in life with his written and directed effort This Is 40.
Where the stars of Knocked Up were Seth Rogan and Katherine Heigl, this film, billed as "The Sort-Of Sequel To" it, they do not appear, though occasionally some actors from that film do guest in this one. In Knocked Up, Pete was a record executive for Sony and Debbie was his wife, going to clubs periodically and raising their two children. This Is 40 finds the children a bit more grown up, with Apatow's children Maude and Charlotte reprising their roles as the now 13-year old Sadie and the 8-year old Charlotte, respectively. Debbie owns a small boutique store and Pete now owns his own independent record label where he promotes and releases albums for once-influential artists that he enjoys, though at increasing financial risk to him and the family. The introduction of friends and family in their lives is new to this film as well, whether it is Pete talking to Barry (played by longtime Saturday Night Live writer Robert Smigel) or Pete and Debbie's fathers, played by Albert Brooks (Drive) and John Lithgow (The Campaign), respectively. When the time comes that Pete and Debbie have to celebrate their birthdays in the same week (they're both turning 40, though Debbie refuses to have this milestone recognized, saying that she's turning 38), the gradually increasing stress the couple shares seems to start boiling over.
I would have to assume that in between the backstory that Apatow had already built in these characters for Knocked Up and having some form of personal experience to draw upon, the characters would be well-established, and this happens nicely. Pete may be stressed professionally but does not communicate this to the family, while Debbie wants to try and avoid the stigma of 'being old' by moving her birthday age back, going to clubs and trying to do new things to care for (and about) the children. Pete is a bit more of a father now than then playmate that he was in Knocked Up, but still remains a sail for Debbie's wind in a 'whatever you want, honey' type of tendency. Having their collective reluctance for lack of a better word to enter the next part of their lives is interesting to watch, whether it is Debbie's vanity or Pete's stoicism mixed with a dusting of apathy.
Both of the stars deliver better than expected turns, with Rudd serving as a great foil to Mann, who does the better of the two. The kids, particularly Maude, turn in pleasant surprises, with Maude having much more depth than I anticipated the prototypical angry teenaged girl role would possess. In addition, various familiar stars in the Apatow universe such as Lena Dunham (Girls), Jason Segal (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids) all appear in small roles in This Is 40 each get several minutes to mainly improvise and make for a comedic moment or two in a mostly serious film.
However, there tends to be a level of aspiration that the film does not rise to. I understood that there were various smaller issues that the story slowly heaped pressure on the main characters for, and it does make for an interesting layer of passive aggression between Pete and Debbie as the movie goes on. As a longtime significant other I could easily relate to it. But the smaller issues seemed to let Apatow not work on a tipping point with the family. If Apatow is shooting from his reality I can understand that, but other viewers might not be able to be convinced of that, and I know I was not. And in this movie that is comfortably over two hours, this results in pacing problems that drag the overall enjoyment of the work down.
To be sure, I appreciate what Judd Apatow was looking to try and do with This Is 40, and other filmmakers of similar age and notoriety could take some notes on how to handle this presumed slightly autobiographical tone. He continues to evolve as a storyteller and I appreciated the efforts of the direction and script, but there is a little more polishing to be done, and I think the characters tended to reflect this. There are good moments here, just not enough for greatness.
Universal trots This Is 40 out to an AVC-encoded 2.40:1 widescreen presentation which looks great. Flesh tones look accurate and avoid any color push, the color palette is natural without over saturation and when called upon, the black levels in the film are dark and do not crush. Shadow delineation is good and image detail in the foreground and background is abundant for much of the film. Film grain is present during viewing and there are no distracting bouts of DNR to plague it; the source material is recent, pristine and in excellent shape here.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless track for the production is also good. While the film is dialogue-driven, said dialogue is consistent in the center channel and requires little compensation. The film also gets to handle more laborious tasks like club music when Debbie is out at the club, or when a commercial jet flies over Pete's father's house intermittently, with the subwoofer firing and filling the low-end out nicely. Channel panning and directional effects are present and provide a subtle layer of immersion during listening, and Universal has done right by the film.
You get your choice of a 137-minute extended/unrated cut and the 134-minute theatrical one. I could tell very little difference of note between the two, which would mean to me that the extra two and a half to three minutes are inconsequential. But it is a sign of the bounty of bonus material that the consumer-friendly Apatow brings to the table. Things start with a commentary by Apatow that is a departure from his previous tracks, as it is a solo one. And while there are some moments when he is caught watching the film, he explains why he is doing this one on his own. He discusses his intent for the scenes and the real-life inspiration for them. He talks about how he worked with the kids and Mann onset as a director and as a husband and father offset. He recounts how he met Parker and Brooks and the other supporting cast, and talks about film that was uniquely cut from the film or missing in the deleted scenes. He even talks about parenting in general which was nice and maintains solid recall on the production. A commentary that was better than I was expecting, to be sure.
Next are three documentaries. "The Making of This Is 40" is a two-part piece (50:05) where Apatow recalls the inspiration for the story ('like Falling Down with a couple') and working with his family on the set. Mixed in with outtakes on set, rehearsal footage and interviews with the cast, various components of the film such as shooting at Apatow's home, and the comparisons between Knocked Up and the present day. The supporting cast discusses their thoughts on the story and its writer/director, and some players from the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team talk about their cameos in the movie. It is a good documentary and worth watching for fans of the film. "This is Albert Brooks (At Work)" (10:58) looks at Apatow's fretting about writing the role of his Dad for Brooks and getting him to appear, while Brooks talks about said role and his work with the kids in it, while the cast discusses the comic mind of this genius. "The Long Emotional Ride" (17:30) examines the reunion of Graham Parker and The Rumour (the key of Pete's record label viability) and their subsequent album, and looking at what the band and its figures have done since their dissolution in the early '80s. All three documentaries are decent to very good.
Next is the music section, where Graham Parker and The Rumour (20:35), Parker in a solo set (5:59) and Ryan Adams (9:52), all of whom appear and perform in the film, get their music a wider berth on the disc. No less than 14 deleted scenes (35:56) follow, most of which focus on the kids and an amusing (albeit real) scene of them getting vaccinations which the Making Of documentary covers. In addition, Maude does a great impression of the Kardashians. Nine alternate/extended scenes (18:24) are various takes of scenes that are already in the film. A two-part gag reel (8:26) is funny, as is the two-part Line-O-Rama (8:27) of alternate lines in repetitive takes. "Brooks-O-Rama" (2:46) is the same thing, though Brooks-focused, as is "Biking With Barry" (2:43) to a degree on Smigel. "Triumph the Insult Comic Dog" (8:36) is where the Smigel-voiced puppet delivers hilarious comic barbs to the cast, while "Kids on the Loose" (11:41) shows the Apatow children onset before and after takes, along with the cast goofing around with them. A fake commercial for Bodies By Jason is next (1:27), while "Fresh Air with Terry Gross" (44:00) is Apatow sitting down for a radio interview. Redeeemable codes for Ultraviolet Streaming and iTunes accompany a standard definition copy of the film and complete the package.
This Is 40 is certainly made with the best intentions and it does have its moments of funny and emotion, but a shorter, tighter movie would be something that could potentially one up Knocked Up, despite the capable work of Rudd and Mann. Technically the disc looks good and there is a crapton of extras. At the very least it is worth checking out, though with a careful eye on whether to buy and add to the library or not.