Under most circumstances, I’ll champion personal, self-indulgent filmmaking. Most of cinema’s greatest accomplishments have been described as — and admonished for — this kind of selfish, singular approach, while many of the ones that miss greatness are at the very least fascinating miscalculations or glorious messes. Judd Apatow’s This is 40 is not fascinating, and it’s definitely not great. This isn’t self-indulgent filmmaking for the sake of some personal artistic achievement. This is narcissism, an infuriating, solipsistic love letter from Apatow to Apatow on just how tough it is to be a rich dude. I don’t often use the word “hate” when it comes to movies — most bad movies are simply too trivial to invest that kind of emotional energy — but I hated this movie and its out of touch, self-centered view of the world.
The film exists as what’s being called a “sort-of sequel” to Apatow’s last hit Knocked Up (2007), a safe move for a man whose clout took a hit with the disastrous Funny People (2009). But the same problems that plagued not just Funny People, but the majority of Apatow’s films, are here. Chunks of the movie are improvised, which — within an already meandering plot — causes the movie to wander about blindly, as a parade of Apatow’s best buds and usual suspects mug for the camera. With an absurd 134-minute run time, This is 40 becomes one painful chore to sit through. The cornball joke for the film is that it should’ve been called This is 40 Minutes Too Long, but you could have seriously lopped an hour off the damned thing and I’d be happy (cutting 134 minutes out would’ve been even peachier). From the onset, this film’s a grind, but it only gets worse from there.
The plot revolves around married couple Pete and Debbie — played by Paul Rudd and Apatow’s wife, Leslie Mann, respectively — and their gamut of rich-white-people problems, and the endless nattering and bickering it creates. They have loud, annoying kids — played by Apatow and Mann’s daughters — who can’t pull themselves away from their expensive gadgets. Debbie’s clothing boutique is failing, and woe is Pete, whose record label is slowly floundering. Keep in mind, neither seems to have a clue how to run a business, and are doing these things less out of necessity and more out of having cash to throw around. Because of this — and Pete’s continuous lending of money to his father (Albert Brooks) — they’re some $80,000 in debt. In a normal movie — let alone normal life — this would cause problems. In This is 40, it’s just a thing to squabble about. Fancy vacations and huge birthday parties still happen and they still live in a house they admit is too big for them. Nothing ever comes of it because nothing ever comes of anything in this movie and, most importantly, because these are people who live in a world devoid of consequence.
There are zero likable qualities to any of these clueless people (Pete’s entire character exists for people who still inexplicably think Paul Rudd is “cute”) to the point that I’m not sure who this movie is made for. (Maybe Mitt Romney and his horse could have a hearty chuckle at it.) This is a movie about privileged people, like Apatow, who are totally oblivious to their own privilege. Rated R for sexual content, crude humor, pervasive language and some drug material.
Starts Fri., Dec. 21 at Carolina Asheville Cinema 14 and other theaters