January 2, 2013

Cupcakes and 40-Year-Olds

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When one thinks of a Judd Apatow vehicle, one typically imagines a stoner comedy with a male lead who is much less attractive than his female co-star, a lot of dick jokes and a Jew joke or two. This Is 40 has all of those elements (except Paul Rudd is arguably much more attractive than Leslie Mann, although I may be a little biased on that front). Yet, it is also a poignant and charming portrait of two people trying to make a marriage work.

This Is 40 advertises itself as the “sort of sequel to Knocked Up,” which meets all of the above criteria for an Apatow film. And like Knocked Up, it is hilarious. Not only do Mann and Rudd have wonderful chemistry and deliver clever witticisms as well as aforementioned dick jokes, but Melissa McCarthy, Jason Segel, Charlyne Yi, John Lithgow, Chris O’Dowd, Annie Mumolo, Lena Dunham, Albert Brooks and Megan Fox together make it difficult to have a laugh-free moment in This Is 40.

While McCarthy, the breakout, Academy Award-nominated actress from Bridesmaids, continues to dominate the screen even after the movie ends (be sure to check out the post-button bloopers), it is Megan Fox’s performance that truly surprises. I had, perhaps too hastily, dismissed her as just a really hot girl who could just be a placeholder for the character of “hot girl.” And while that is still an unmissable aspect of her character, Fox succeeds in transcending that label. She is both funny and likable and has made me reconsider my prejudice against Transformers.

Charlene Yi also plays a minor role with one uproarious scene that made me wish to see more of her in the world. Though I am a fan of Girls, which Apatow produces, Lena Dunham’s character does not add as much to the movie as I would have hoped.

Despite all of these funny people in ridiculous situations, This Is 40 is less like Knocked Up and more like another Apatow film: Funny People. Like Funny People, This is 40, though a comedy, ultimately has a much more serious undertone. Instead of being about death as it is in Funny People, it is about the financial and marital struggles faced by two people afraid of aging.

Mann and Rudd are technically co-stars, but This Is 40 seems to be much more about Mann’s character, Debbie, and her insecurities. The film opens with Debbie’s 40th birthday and throughout it, she tries to come to terms with that number. Debbie could be dismissed as just the bitchy wife constantly yelling at her husband, Pete, for eating cupcakes (which he does in almost every scene), but through character choices and Mann’s rich performance, you understand why she behaves as she does and how upset she feels that her husband has cast her in that role.

Mann is married to Apatow, and he cast their two daughters, Maude and Iris Apatow, as Pete and Debbie’s daughters, Sadie and Charlotte, respectively. While I have no idea if any of the film is autobiographical, the fights that Pete and Debbie have seem genuine. At times, it appears as though the couple is on the verge of divorce, yet at other times they are perfectly in sync with each other. It feels like a real marriage, lacking glamour and mystery (and featuring many scenes of Debbie walking in on Pete playing Words With Friends whilst sitting on the toilet.)

Normally, I would probably complain at this juncture that the 134-minute running time was about 45 minutes too long, but, for once, I think the pacing is justified. The plot of the film is simple because there isn’t really one — it’s just about life. The changes that take place within the characters take time, and I think it’s deliberate that the movie feels slow at points. This is why it is so important that it be balanced with that silly humor so well delivered by the cast.

In a movie that is so honest and true, the only characters who do not ring as true to me were Sadie and Charlotte. The girls are funny, and my problem is not in their acting, but in the writing of their dialogue. Their characters seemed somewhat sitcom-y to me, with the older one just having gone through puberty and constantly being horrible and the younger one delivering cute punch lines at the end of every scene. Perhaps my opinion is such due to my experience growing up as a very difficult, but cute, younger sister, but Sadie and Charlotte feel less real than all the other characters.

This Is 40 is hilarious at times yet also reflective. Comedies are often disregarded as movies without artistic ambitions, but once again Judd Apatow proves that just because a movie is funny doesn’t mean it cannot also take a real look at the difficulties in life. This Is 40 tells a tale that you don’t have to be over 40 to relate to. It also really made me want to eat a cupcake.


Original Author: Julia Moser