There’s a lot to like about Judd Apatow’s “This Is 40,” the sort-of sequel to 2007’s “Knocked Up.” Whereas “Knocked Up” centered on a group of half-baked men, “This Is 40” deals with the day-to-day grind of family life in a clever, heartfelt way.
Debbie (Leslie Mann) and Pete (Paul Rudd) are happily married and living in Los Angeles with their two young daughters, Sadie (Maude Apatow) and Charlotte (Iris Apatow). Pete now owns a fledgling record label, and Debbie’s new boutique is struggling to break even. On top of raising two daughters and staying afloat financially, Debbie and Pete are both turning 40. In addition, Debbie and Pete must also come to terms with their imperfect fathers, played by John Lithgow and Albert Brooks, respectively.
Like “Knocked Up,” “This Is 40” is an ensemble comedy, and the film is full of great, laugh-out-loud performances. Mann and Rudd are believable as a married couple still going through growing pains. At 40, they’ve reached a new level of intimacy. Gone are the days of their youthful bodies, exciting sex and little responsibility, which have been replaced by mounting debt, homework and everyday disagreements. While this may sound absolutely miserable, Mann and Rudd’s performances, along with Apatow’s script, make it laughable. There are times during the film where I thought the two would be happier apart then together, but these moments are quickly defused by something bigger than what they’re arguing about.
For instance, Debbie and Pete are called into the principal’s office after a run-in with a student and his overprotective mom (Melissa McCarthy). Rather than admit to their bad behavior, Debbie and Pete team up to place the blame on McCarthy’s character. This is one of the funniest scenes is the film, with much of its humor and memorable one-liners provided by McCarthy. I’ve had my doubts about McCarthy as a true comedic actress, but her improvisation skills are stellar.
Albert Brooks performance as Pete’s dad is hilarious as well. Larry may be shamelessly mooching off his son, but he genuinely cares about Pete and his family. Megan Fox as one of Debbie’s boutique employees is the film’s most surprising performance. Fox makes Desi likeable and funny, something the actress has never been able to do before.
While improvisation played an important role in “This Is 40,” credit needs to be given to Apatow’s script writing skills. After writing and directing “Knocked Up” and the not-so-funny “Funny People,” it seems Apatow has found the right balance between comedic and dramatic elements. “This Is 40” takes on marriage in a realistic way, but it’s still the movie version of reality. Here, the people are better looking and the conversations are a lot more sharp-witted.