Have you ever been together with another couple who are not getting along? You know, something along the lines of going out to a restaurant or having dinner at their place or yours where the tension between the two is thick like smoke and nearly as suffocating. It ends up being uncomfortable for everyone involved, be that those who've suddenly found themselves disagreeing or who are simply further perpetuating some deeper disharmony, as well as the witnesses to the new or continued unraveling.
That's certainly no fun to be around in person, and most people kindly excuse themselves so as to get out of Dodge as quickly as possible. Since it happens in real life, fiction is no stranger to using that for some storytelling means, be that as a subplot, some additional subtext or simply putting that on for full display. Sometimes it can be funny to one or more degrees, at others it can be boring despite the inherent fireworks and dramatic or comedic conflict, and occasionally it can be as tedious and uncomfortable as witnessing the real thing.
"This is 40" manages to hit all three characteristics, although the latter quality ultimately wins out, at least in my book. A loose -- and I mean incredibly lose -- sequel/spin off from "Knocked Up," this Judd Apatow written and directed comedy follows two of that 2007 comedy's characters as both approach crossing over that titular age.
They would be Pete and Debbie (Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann, reprising their roles), the married couple and relatives to Katherine Heigl's unexpectedly pregnant character from that film. In that story, they were having marital issues stemming from her believing he was having an affair while he was really trying to get out from under her controlling behavior by participating in a fantasy baseball draft group. They eventually reconciled and presumably lived happily ever after.
That is until Apatow decided to drag them back under the microscope in their own film, with nary a reference to their past cinematic exposure. Now, Pete runs his own small record label and isn't happy that his two employees (Chris O'Dowd and Lena Dunham) aren't doing a better job of promoting the latest album from Graham Parker (playing himself), a failure that means he's further in debt, especially since he continues giving cash to his money sponge father (Albert Brooks). Meanwhile, Debbie runs a small clothing store and wonders which employee (Charlyne Yi or Megan Fox) has stolen $12,000, all while trying to be healthy with a personal trainer (Jason Segel) and somewhat hoping to reconcile with her estranged, biological father (John Lithgow), who doesn't even know his grandkids (Apatow's real life children, Maude and Iris).
Both are turning 40 quite soon, but she refuses to accept that and sticks with the story that she's only 38. All of which, in Apatow's mind, is supposed to represent a fight back against the fact that life often robs the fun, intimacy and formerly carefree existence of married couples. To drive home that point, the two main characters spend a great deal of time snipping and snapping at each other, a superficial response to little things that have been blown out of proportion and bigger things (such as unresolved daddy issues) that have become leaden and toxic albatrosses.
A little of that goes a long way, and while there's one degree or another of truth to many of the elements and aspects of married life and parenthood presented here (annoying habits, bickering kids, waning or interrupted sex lives, etc.), Apatow piles them one atop another to the point that it simply and quite certainly becomes less than enjoyable and/or entertaining to behold.
It doesn't help that the film is uneven, both in pacing and its mixture of drama, comedy and standard Apatow fueled raunch and crudity. And clocking in at a somewhat astonishing 134 minutes, it's simply too long, not to mention repetitive, fairly clichéd and yes, far too annoying to enjoy. Mann (the filmmaker's real-life wife) is believable in the role, perhaps too much so in terms of being all over the map emotionally and behaviorally. While I've enjoyed Rudd in the past, he's really once again just playing a slight variation of the sort of character he typically does.
The best performances come from Apatow's daughters who credibly play their parts (the early teen who's annoyed with her obnoxious but still sweet younger sister), hopefully not drawing on their home life for inspiration. Supporting performances are fine, with it always being nice to see Brooks do pretty much anything, while Fox provides lots of eye candy for admirers of her, ahem, body of work.
Simply put, if you enjoy scenes of people bickering, yelling and acting like spoiled brats at times, this might be right up your alley of dysfunctional family fiction. If not, it's about as much fun as watching a couple rise to a slow boil of marital trouble before your eyes. "This is 40" rates as a 3.5 out of 10.