‘This is 40’: Midlife angst doesn’t really fit Apatow formula

Much closer in form to the relationship dramas of James L. Brooks than to his own potty-mouthed comedies of the past, Judd Apatow’s “This is 40” is the moviemaker’s chance to act his age — but keep the sex jokes and toilet humor.

Maybe that stuff doesn’t age well, because “This is 40” mostly flounders around in the tension between keeping it funny and keeping it real. Even Apatow’s indulgent “Funny People” is more consistent by comparison.

“This is 40” re-visits supporting characters from Apatow’s “Knocked Up.” Here we focus on Pete and Debbie, responsible married couple and parents to two daughters. They are played, as before, by Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann; the daughters are played by Maude and Iris Apatow, the real-life daughters of Leslie Mann and Judd Apatow.

Debbie’s turning 40, which is reason enough for a little despair and re-assessment. Her marriage to Pete is punctuated by money worries and blow-out arguments, which are played as realistically as possible.

I think Apatow is trying something perfectly admirable here: to suggest how messy life is, and to admit that very serious moments of soul-searching can frequently sit side-by-side with inappropriate comments and embarrassing bodily functions.

By calling his movie “This is 40” and aiming at a certain generation-defining mood, Apatow is reaching quite a bit beyond a casual dramedy. This ambition is confirmed by the 135-minute running time.

The sprawl allows for the large cast of actors to work their specialties. In the case of Albert Brooks, who plays Pete’s dad, this is understandable; Brooks’ comic zingers are always welcome (he skeptically sizes up a supposedly valuable John Lennon lithograph by muttering, “I think it’s a Ringo”).

But comedy bits by people like Jason Segel and Charlyne Yi steer the movie in directions that don’t seem in any way relevant to the main subject, except they struck Apatow as funny.

And there’s a long section involving Debbie’s insult to a grade-school kid that results in a hilarious scene from Melissa McCarthy (“Bridesmaids”), which would be fine except that McCarthy’s amusing ad-libs have nothing to do with the realistic world we’ve been inhabiting.

On the plus side, Apatow’s daughters are excellent, and the lead turns by Rudd and Mann are appealing enough.

But everything about the movie sounds like unfiltered Apatow-speak: Whether delivered by a high-school kid, a young woman or an older man, everyone fires off their one-liners with the same uncensored enthusiasm (if everybody in America actually talked about sex this openly, we might be a much healthier country).

It’ll be interesting to see whether Apatow’s fans stick with him here. Maybe 40-year-olds still go to movies like this, but I suspect “the next Judd Apatow” is already hatching an outrageous comedy that Apatow’s fans will find far too crass and vulgar for their tastes. And that movie will make a billion.

“This is 40” (2 stars)

Judd Apatow directs this visit with a couple of characters from “Knocked Up,” the parents played by Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann. Along with the customary sex talk, Apatow lets the domestic details and marital arguments fly, dragging the movie into an uneasy place between ad-libbed absurdity and brutal realism. It doesn’t really work, especially at 135 minutes.

Rated: R, for language, nudity, subject matter.

Showing: Alderwood, Everett, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood, Pacific Place, Sundance, Thornton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall.

More in Life

Beer and cupcakes: Snohomish brewer, baker form unlikely duo

Pacific Northwest Cupcakes uses SnoTown’s brews to make beer-infused sweet treats.

The art and science of weathervanes

They told the direction of the wind and aided in forecasting the, well, weather.

Hundreds of ways to pamper your home and yourself

Find fancy fridges to sparkling jewelry under one roof at home and gift shows in Everett.

This is exactly how a cleaning expert organizes her space in 20 minutes

Try these realistic and attainable tricks to land yourself a cleaner home.

Snohomish brewer flavors beer with chilies from mom’s back yard

Beer of the Week: Smoked rye forms sturdy foundation for SnoTown’s well-balanced Loose Rooster.

Fall is just another blooming season

October can be a time of spectacular colors in your garden.

Woodward Canyon Winery continues to weave masterpieces

Owner Rick Small uses grapes from vines he used when he made wine in his back yard in the 1970s.

Music in the mountains: ‘It’s a weather-dependant hobby’

Anastasia Allison of the Musical Mountaineers reflects on making music at the summits.

Great Plant Pick: Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diabolo,’ purple-leaf ninebark

Grow it with shrub roses and perennials, and it combines with with ornamental grasses.

Most Read