Judd Apatow clearly doesn't just want to go down in history as that funny guy. His most lauded work, Freaks and Geeks, was always much more of a dramedy than a typical TV comedy. His film career, which started out with the sophomoric-but-sweet The 40-Year-Old Virgin, has trended towards more introspective themes with each passing movie. This Is 40 is the most insightful and least laugh-out-loud funny of Apatow's four films. It's also his worst, and it's not even close.
A spinoff of Apatow's second movie, 2007's Knocked Up, This is 40 (opening Friday Dec. 21) picks back up with Pete and Debbie (Paul Rudd and Apatow's wife Leslie Mann), who turn 40 in the same week and are way too worked up about it. That, along with some vague story of financial troubles (Pete thinks Graham Parker can save his floundering record label -- yes, Graham Parker is still alive), is basically the entire plot.
The rest is composed of numerous, not-that-interconnected episodes which focus on the couple's relationships with their kids (Maude and Iris Apatow, the latter being the best part of the movie), Pete's mooching father (a perfectly passive-aggressive Albert Brooks), Debbie's absent one (John Lithgow, who has the world's smallest mouth) and too many others. Some of these threads work and, at times, are hilarious -- the oldest daughter Sadie's obsession with Lost and Debbie's verbal assault on Sadie's buck-toothed classmate (and subsequent meeting with a scene-stealing Melissa McCarthy) are just a few high points.
But there are just as many moments that fall flat. Jason Segel, who's usually good in everything and who was funny-creepy in Knocked Up, is just plain creepy in this one, despite losing his mustache. Megan Fox is only in it to look hot, but that's nothing new. Whatever talent Lena Dunham allegedly has is wasted; ditto for Maude Apatow, who aside from a few good expletive-laden lines is reduced to the cliché role of an irrational tantrum fountain. The comic energy that fueled the entirety of Knocked Up and even Funny People isn't always there. There are too many awkward pauses that feel like they're inviting laughter when there isn't a good enough joke to provoke it.
When Apatow made Funny People, many critics praised the ambition, if not necessarily the execution (i.e. the last 45 minutes should have been cut to maybe ... 5 minutes?). One hopeful theory was that Apatow had to work through Funny People to learn how to make a masterpiece, like James Joyce doing A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man before he could do Ulysses,. While Apatow has a lot of good things to say here regarding marriage, getting older, daddy issues, everlasting love and unhealthy eating, there's too much going on. Maybe he'll be able to effectively pare down his next movie and make a real masterpiece. But that's what we said last time. Grade: C+
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