You only have to take an extended glance at the cast list in any Judd Apatow film to know what you’re letting yourself in for. Without trivialising, much of his feature-length work for cinemagoers can be summed up in a handful of words, which is a real shame given that it’s started to slightly overshadow his laudable television credits. Surprisingly, he’s only sat in the director’s chair for three feature films, but adds a fourth to his vapid catalogue with the surprisingly well-received This Is 40 (2012). Set a few years after Knocked Up (2007), Apatow recalls the services of Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann (Apatow’s off-screen wife) to play a now middle-aged couple Pete and Debbie.
Encumbered by financial woes as Pete’s record label flounders and Debbie’s clothes store barely breaks even, the couple also have two kids to worry about; little angel Charlotte and typical teen Sadie (played by Apatow’s real-life offspring Iris and Maude). It’s rattled off as a bog-standard family comedy for the digital age, where the best punishment for kids is to cancel their Spotify subscription or revert to dial-up. As if it wasn’t enough that Apatow has spun this into a ‘sequel’, we also have to endure the done to death arguments about confronting middle-age and handling the stress of family.
Despite the fact that Apatow is known for his directorial indulgence and narrative aimlessness, This Is 40 takes it to another level this time around with a completely unnecessary runtime of 134 minutes. There’s a strong sense that the director was just simply half-bored and looking for ways to get his wife and kids into a film. He’s also unleashed his entire recent network of actors onto the screen as Jason Segel, Chris O’Dowd and Lena Dunham (or Girls fame) all pop up in underdeveloped roles, delivering flat one-liners and petty squabbles that add nothing to the overall proceedings. What we’re left with is a roll-call of comic talent, none of whom are able to break free from their tired moulds.
Apatow-produced (or, the very least, influenced) US comedies of the last few years such as The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005), Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008), I Love You Man (2009) and The Five-Year Engagement (2012) all recycle jokes and make the stale comic point that sex is ultimately awkward and clumsy regardless of age. This Is 40 confirms similar clichés but goes one further to say that when you get older you’ll actually crave the embarrassment as it re-mystifies your sex life. Apatow’s latest effort is certainly watchable due to its familiarity and contains the occasional zinger, but it’s something we’ve all seen before.
Apatow’s oeuvre, now incorporating This Is 40, touches on the tragicomic element to lasting relationships but run away from it in fear of becoming too serious. Instead, everyone reconciles in the knowledge that life is bliss if you just learn to relax and enjoy ‘yourself’ – perhaps the corniest, yet most recurrent theme in any modern American rom-com.