Sunday, December 23, 2012

THIS IS 40 Review

Judd Apatow needs to learn to not be afraid of the editing room. Like his "Funny People," his latest personal project is a loose, meandering, messy and bit of an amorphous blob of a comedy. But it's also searing in its honest look at married life, dealing with parents, raising kids, getting older and maintaining a companionship that lasts. And if it takes his sloppy, imperfect style -- rolling, spontaneous, free-flowing improvisational riffs and scenes that sometimes are directionless -- to present us these truths he seeks, then so be it. It's worth it, and "This Is 40" is worth it. No other tighter Hollywood comedies today could squeeze so much out of its characters and show audiences what it's really like and take the risk of swapping out laughs for realness.

I was uncomfortable at first with how much a comedy was making me squirm. There are a lot of fights, a lot of arguments, and I thought to myself, "Well, this isn't very funny." But that's what makes Apatow brave as a filmmaker. He started back with 2007's "Knocked Up" re-envisioning what a comedy could do. He created his own sub-genre of comedy that was mimicked for years; that is until "Bridesmaids" set another new standard. And with this sort-of sequel to "Knocked Up," Apatow has done it again. He's given us a comedy that makes us look at the harsher realities of married life, of hitting that over-the-hill. It's not always pretty, that's for sure, with a lot of the gross-out comedy actually coming from droll everyday moments like having Pete (Paul Rudd) thrusting his legs in the air and wanting Debbie (Leslie Mann) to check for hemorrhoids.

Pete and Debbie we supporting characters, and we saw their marriage was less than perfect. Now, at the center, their marriage is dead in the water. They attempt to explain and negotiate to each other in therapy terms as their counseling has taught them, but they still sound like they want to kill each other. Pete's form of escape is hiding away in the bathroom sitting on the toilet to play Scrabble on his tablet. Debbie becomes obsessed with trying to make changes to the family dynamic: more healthy eating, and less Internet for the kids (played by Apatow and Mann's real life daughters, Maude and Iris get plenty of fun material to play with -- best is the older daughter's obsession with finding out how "Lost" ends).

While trying to be the best parents they can, Pete and Debbie have parent troubles of their own. Pete's dad, Larry (Albert Brooks), is too present in his life always asking for money to help support his younger wife and blonde triplet boys he can't tell apart. Brooks is a comedic cannon and scene-stealer in the fatherly role. Debbie's dad, Oliver (John Lithgow), is on the other end of the spectrum -- not present at all to the point of meeting his granddaughters for the first time. All of their drama comes to a head at a birthday bash where Apatow's loose narrative really packs its punch.

Aside from that, however, the crux of Pete and Debbie's issues stem from their financial problems. But they also live in the likes of Brentwood, Calif. which means they're actually still pretty well-off. It's hard to pity them when you're listening about Debbie's thrift store not breaking even as her hot employee played by Megan Fox might be stealing, or watching as Pete's record label flounders because he's signing has-been groups like Graham Parker (who plays a version of himself in the movie). Aside from the welcomed addition of "Girls" players Lena Dunham and Chris O'Dowd as employees of Pete's, this side of the movie -- which unfortunately takes up a large portion -- just feels like the grumbling of rich people problems.

The laughs are mostly hit-or-miss from all the movie's improvising, but one moment where Pete and Debbie get tangled in the politics of their daughters' school is an absolute knock-out from Melissa McCarthy. She plays a disgruntled mother, Catherine, who has an outrageous, mean-spirited, curse-filled tirade to why Pete and Debbie are horrible people; that is, however, after Debbie just got done unnecessarily yelling at Catherine's son in a moment of parental protection and vulnerability that perfectly captures Mann's character. She's the acting stand-out as a woman, wife and mother who's aggravating, kind, brash, sexy and insecure all in one, and she makes her Debbie breathable, living and oh so true.

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