Writer/director/producer Judd Apatow returns with This Is 40, which is a spin-off based on his hilarious film Knocked Up. This filmmaker has been making audiences laugh for years, but attempted to combine his humor with a drama in Funny People. It ended up being my least favorite of his movies. While This Is 40 is being advertised as a comedy, it's a lot more like Funny People than it is his humor-driven motion pictures. Fortunately, he has created a smoother film with utilizing both dramatic and comedic elements. Even with the improvements made, Apatow still has issues balancing the two, as he attempts to make a great drama that will still have viewers laughing out loud, but it doesn't entirely accomplish either of those objectives.
Pete (Paul Rudd) and his wife, Debbie (Leslie Mann), are two very different people with conflicting goals. They live in a nice house and have two children by the names of Sadie (Maude Apatow) and Charlotte (Iris Apatow). Pete and Debbie's marital issues begin to rise to the surface, as the family starts to fall apart. They attempt to resolve the issues in order to find the love they originally saw in each other, but more problems arise than they could have expected. Debbie and Pete try to deal with their current state of life, as they discover what's truly important.
This Is 40 begins on a raunchy note, which isn't anything new from Judd Apatow. He keeps true to the type of humor audiences have come to expect from him, but I didn't laugh out loud nearly as much as I did through his previous features. You'll find yourself chuckling, but there aren't many hilarious moments. One of the few sequences that had me actually laughing is when Pete drops off his youngest daughter at school and finds himself in a heated argument with one of the other parents, Catherine (Melissa McCarthy), which is surely one of the most memorable moments of the entire film. It's during scenes like these where Apatow thrives, but he constantly tries to make jokes about pop culture, which aren't nearly as affective. While the comedic aspect isn't the film's strongest asset, it has its moments.
When this motion picture isn't trying to make you laugh, it's telling a story about life. There's a sweet and charming plot to be told, even though it isn't handled quite as well as it should be. This Is 40 seems to have a barrier that blocks it from ever becoming too serious, as it deals with its topics lightly. However, it's still very much a drama. Pete and Debbie's characters are developed quite well, which makes them much more likable. While some of their actions and situations are exaggerated, they come across as genuine people who audiences will be able to relate with. The drama portions of this feature are reasonably solid until the final act, which is when it begins to choke on genre clichés. Even though the characters still feel like real people, the screenplay provides a disappointing ending.
With a running time of 134 minutes, a lot of ground can be covered. Unfortunately, it spends a lot of time being uncertain about which genre elements it wants to focus on. Since Judd Apatow couldn't entirely incorporate both them, he should have picked one and stuck with it. Instead, he offers some promising material with both, but it feels like he's holding back. The comedy is hit and miss, but there are some scenes that will definitely leave audiences laughing. However, there's also a plot that could be given some true meaning, but it's buried under a lot of clutter. Aside from the story, the characters are charming and enjoyable to watch on screen. Characters like Pete and Debbie helped keep this movie from feeling as long as it actually is.
The material isn't the strongest this filmmaker's best work, but the acting is actually quite impressive. Paul Rudd is great in the role of Pete. He's believable and delivers his lines of dialogue with charm. Leslie Mann is solid as Debbie. She manages to play the character without appearing awkward through the tone transitions. Mann and Rudd have excellent chemistry on screen. They're extremely convincing as a married couple, as they interact very naturally on screen. This Is 40 features some nice supporting performances, as well. Albert Brooks does a great job as Pete's father, Larry. He delivers numerous memorable scenes and will definitely be a crowd-favorite. John Lithgow even has a small appearance as Debbie's father, Oliver. Melissa McCarthy is absolutely hilarious as Catherine, who is only in the feature for a short amount of time. However, she manages to deliver one of the funniest moments in the movie. Ultimately, the cast actually transcends the material they've been given.
Those who are expecting This Is 40 to be Judd Apatow's next outrageous comedy might be disappointed, but it's still an amusing picture. The film has its humorous moments and the characters are genuine. I found myself attached to Pete and Debbie, especially with Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann's convincing performances. With a clear direction, Judd Apatow could have created his best film yet, but he still hasn't mastered the balance between comedy and drama. This Is 40 is an enjoyable-enough film that doesn't call upon instant theatrical action, but it's worth checking out at some point.