Starring: Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Albert Brooks
Directed by: Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up,” ‘Funny People”)
Written by: Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up,” “Funny People”)
Were you aware that director Judd Apatow’s last film, “Funny People,” has a runtime of 2 hours and 26 minutes? Yes, the crude-yet-thoughtful comedy clocks in at just 20 minutes shorter than the epic fantasy adventure “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” and that disparity drops to 13 minutes if you count the extended edition available on DVD. It’s the most glaring weakness built into the DNA of nearly every project Apatow’s name is attached to: an intelligent script and top-notch comedic performances stretched too thin by pacing that sometimes devolves from storytelling to simply hanging out with the characters. While Apatow has arguably earned such indulgences after re-shaping modern cinematic comedy as a hit-making producer and director, it’s tough to keep the laughs going for that long without testing the patience of the audience.
Though not as egregious an offender, “This is 40” still manages to stick around at least half an hour too long. As a quasi-sequel to 2007’s “Knocked Up,” the film features Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann reprising their roles as Pete and Debbie, first introduced as the extended family of Seth Rogen’s and Katherine Heigl’s lead characters. The lived-in feel of their relationship fleshed out the edges of that film in ways that often overshadowed the chief plot line. Five years later, Pete and Debbie are front and center and on the cusp of their 40th birthdays. Well Pete is, anyway. Debbie has been weaving an elaborate web of lies about her age culminating in her claim to be turning 38 instead. Pete and Debbie are also dealing with the trials that plague similar couples across the nation: financial problems, unpredictable children, and the boring familiarity that inevitably rears its head in long-term relationships.
“This is 40” has little to speak of in they way of plot, with the only real threads that stretch from beginning to end being the very loose planning and execution of the birthday party and the dire financial struggles of Pete’s boomer-skewing record label. Newly-minted Apatow players Lena Dunham and Chris O’Dowd turn up to deliver laughs as Pete’s co-workers, with O’Dowd rewarded later in the film by sharing an extended (though highly unnecessary) exchange with Apatow all-star Jason Segel. A couple of comedic heavyweights check in along the way: Albert Brooks drops in as Pete’s dad, an old man with a new young family, and Melissa McCarthy stops the show as a mother defending her son with an hilariously insane rant (curiously absent, though, are Rogen and Heigl). Despite all the talent on hand, though, the film belongs to Rudd and Mann. The honesty of their relationship is never in doubt, and the familiarity each have with Apatow’s voice help turn already funny lines into quotable and hilarious one-liners.
Yeah, the film overstays its welcome, but so what? Like the rest of Apatow’s characters, these people are fun to hang around with.