Review: This is 40

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

PLOT: Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) have it all- or so it seems. They live in a gorgeous, perhaps too extravagant home, they have two great daughters (Maude & Iris Apatow) and jobs that they love- Pete running his own indie record label, and Debbie owning a Lulu Lemon-style boutique. But, in the week between their respective fortieth birthdays, they discover their lives and their relationship may not be a secure as they think.

REVIEW: There’s no arguing that Pete and Debbie stole the show in KNOCKED UP. In the five years since it hit theaters, writer-director Judd Apatow’s been teasing us with their possible return, and now- here they are in their very own movie. One which, to those of us who’ve been devotedly following Apatow’s career since at least FREAKS & GEEKS, will strike many as the most nakedly autobiographical thing he’s done since THE T.V SET.

Five years later, Pete and Debbie haven’t changed that much. Debbie’s still obsessed with maintaining the illusion of youth- even lying to her gynecologist about her age (which seems to permanently hover around 37-38), while Pete struggles with maintaining their relatively lavish lifestyle. Five years later, with the economy in the toilet, the trials and tribulations of an upper middle-class family may not cut as close to the bone as it did in 2007, but THIS IS 40 is not a fantasy. Far from it. Pete and Debbie are far less secure than they were in KNOCKED UP; with Pete’s indie label floundering as he tries to launch a perhaps ill-advised commercial comeback for cult band Graham Parker & The Rumour. Meanwhile, $12,000 is missing from the coffers at Debbie’s store, with the culprit either being her top saleswoman, Desi (Megan Fox) or her pet employee Jodi (Charlyne Yi).

Meanwhile, they both have to contend with their own absentee dads, both of whom have started new families. Pete’s dad (Albert Brooks) is a terminal mooch, desperate for cash in order to support his three young sons, while Debbie’s dad (John Lithgow) seemingly couldn’t care less about her own family, being too busy with his own young, picture-perfect brood.

If THIS IS 40 sounds a bit episodic, it is- but I can’t help but feel this is intentional on Apatow’s part. Rather than bombard us with artificial plot twists, his movie plays more like a slice of life, with us spending an important week in their lives. By the time THIS IS 40 comes to an end, after a lengthy 135 minutes; don’t expect everything to be resolved. A lot of THIS IS 40 plays out like this: Pete and Debbie fight, make up, fight again, make up, fight, make-up, etc. But isn’t that just like life?

Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann make for an incredibly believable on-screen couple. Both seem to be playing fictionalised versions of themselves, with Rudd bringing his own sensibility to his part as Apatow’s on-screen doppelganger. Both have their faults, with her being judgemental and narcissistic, while he bottles things up and inevitably explodes every so often. Of course, being Rudd and Mann, they’re both incredibly likable, and THIS IS 40 would implode it they weren’t. Nobody else could have played Pete and Debbie because, in a fashion, they are Pete and Debbie.

This extends to casting Apatow and Mann’s real-life daughters Maude and Iris as their kids- recreating the roles they played in KNOCKED UP (and to a degree- FUNNY PEOPLE). Maude- who’s thirteen, has grown up a lot in between this and FUNNY PEOPLE, and her growing pains are in integral part of the plot. Growing up surrounded by funny people, it’s no wonder that Maude and Iris are so comfortable on-screen.

Many Apatow VIP’s show-up in THIS IS 40, ranging from veterans- with Jason Segal recreating his part in KNOCKED UP, while newer Apatow cronies, including Chris O’Dowd (a scene-stealer) and Lena Dunham playing Pete’s employees. Megan Fox has a nice little come-back part as Debbie’s possibly duplicitous employee, and the way her part plays out is less predictable than you’d think. Fox seems to be having a ball sending up her own sex-bomb image, even stripping to her lingerie and encouraging Debbie to play with her boobs to prove they’re real (Debbie seems convinced). Albert Brooks and John Lithgow, both coming off redefining their careers by playing iconic psychos (Brooks- who was robbed of an Oscar for DRIVE, and Lithgow’s Emmy-winning turn on DEXTER), are excellent as their absentee parents. Brooks settles back into his former specialty as a total cheapskate, while Lithgow’s final scenes towards the climax are among the most memorable in the film.

Now, I must admit that I initially thought THIS IS 40 was overlong, but having thought about it, something odd started to happen. THIS IS 40 stuck with me in a way I hadn’t anticipated, and I’m certain that had Apatow cut it, it wouldn’t have had the staying power. Obviously, James L. Brooks is a major influence, but more and more, Apatow’s been striking me as a kind of funny version of John Cassavetes, with exchanges going on and on, arguments lingering, etc. 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN and KNOCKED UP hinted at this trend, but they had more plot. This is more in line with FUNNY PEOPLE, but more consistent.

I should also say that while my review is probably making this seem awfully serious, it’s funny as hell. Rudd and Mann`s pot-cookie fueled romp at a spa is one of the funniest things in movies this year- along with Rudd trying to introduce Alice in Chains` `Rooster`to his family, (“what is this?” this daughter asks. “Oh”, he replies, “this is GOOD music.”). LOST fanatics will also get a huge kick out of Maude’s ongoing obsession with the series as she works her way to the inevitable heartbreak of the final episode. Her argument with Rudd over whether MAD MEN or LOST is the better show ranks among Apatow’s best banter- right up there with the “I know you’re gay because…” bit from VIRGIN.

Whether or not THIS IS 40 is going to go over like 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN & KNOCKED UP is still a big question mark, although the X-Mas release, not to mention the massive screener campaign suggests Apatow is more interested in the Awards circuit. Certainly, his screenplay deserves a nod, and hopefully it’ll find an appreciative audience. It’s not as immediately brilliant as VIRGIN, but it has staying power, which is something I hadn’t anticipated. I hope it brings Apatow the critical praise he deserves.




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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.