Ever since he made his directorial debut with THE 40-YEAR OLD VIRGIN, Judd Apatow has sort of become this comedy guru. Combining raunchy comedy with dramatic storylines, his movies have become a sort of standard to live up to. I loved his first film, as well as KNOCKED UP. I even enjoyed FUNNY PEOPLE, though it had some structural problems. It’s been 3 years since that movie, so I was curious as to what kind of movie he was going to cook up next.
For his latest, Apatow has taken supporting characters from KNOCKED UP (Pete, Debbie and their kids) and put them in their own movie. Both Pete and Debbie are turning 40 in the same week and aren’t taken it too well. They also have problems with their jobs. Pete can’t seem to get his independent record label to take off, and one of Debbie’s employees are stealing money from her clothing store. The movie doesn’t really have a central plot. It’s just a series of subplots. Including Pete’s mooch of a father (played by Albert Brooks) who constantly borrows money from the couple, and Debbie’s father (played by John Lithgow) who doesn’t really want anything to do with her. There is a lot more shit going on here too, and that’s the fucking problem.
Like I said, I have liked all of Apatow’s film up to this point, so it really disappoints me to say that I kind of hated his latest movie. Where should I begin….. I guess a movie is only as good as its lead characters, and I actually couldn’t stand them. I’m not talking about actors Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann, I’m talking about the characters that they play. In KNOCKED UP, they were funny because their cynical characters didn’t dominate the screen. But in their own film, I found them to be not so fun to be around. All they do is whine, bitch, complain and shriek at each other about various things involving sex, viagra, money problems, going to the bathroom, and other “taboo” things. . 2 hours and 13 minutes is far too long to be spending with such despicable characters. And I think the movie fails because I’m pretty sure that’s NOT what Apatow intended, to have his characters come across this unlikable.
Besides the main characters being such assholes, the story structure is also a major problem. Saying it has a story structure is being way too nice, because it doesn’t have a structure. The film constantly wanders around aimlessly as Pete and Debbie swear a lot, treat their kids like shit, and do selfish things. The aimless plot also gives the movie plenty of opportunity to have a slew of pointless supporting characters that have absolutely nothing to offer to the plot do pointless things. It’s fine to include them into the movie, but when they get their own scenes (for example: we have a few scenes of Jason Segal’s personal trainer trying to hit on Debbie’s employee played by Megan Fox), is becomes a bit indulgent. What makes them so important to the movie that they should get their own scenes? Isn’t this supposed to be Pete and Debbie’s movie? They felt like deleted scenes.
Another big problem with the movie is the improvisation. I think improv can be okay. Apatow has used this to great effect in his past films, but it never got in way of the story. In this movie, the improvisation absolutely dominates the film. Every (and I mean every) scene goes on for at least 2 minutes too long as every actor constantly riffs through their scenes. Kind of like in the overrated BRIDESMAIDS. This is mostly evident in Melissa McCarthy’s scenes as a mother of a student that Pete and Debbie harass. McCarthy swears and spouts off insults to an unrealistic degree. I mean, who tells a school principal that “I’m glad your husband died. He probably killed himself”. None of this felt natural or even funny. It’s comedy without direction. It also doesn’t help that I hate McCarthy. Even the very funny Charlene Yi is horrible in this. There’s a scene in which she gets fired by Debbie (oops, spoiler) and for no reason other than the fact that she’s improvising, she starts speaking in a low, growling voice, like she’s possessed. It makes zero sense and is probably in the film ONLY because it made the crew laugh on set.
Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann completely commit to their characters, but I just hated them so much. Albert Brooks has a funny line or two (mostly involving how he can’t tell his triplet sons apart), but his scenes go on too long as well. John Lithgow is kind of the straight man, but his performance would have been effective in a more dramatic movie. Jason Segal, Chris O’Dowd and Megan Fox appear in the movie just to pad the running time (which needed none by the way). The best thing about this movie is Judd Apatow’s kids, who play the children of Debbie and Pete. They both seem to have a lot of charisma and have the film’s best lines and moments. Like when the oldest watches LOST for the first time. Her reaction to it is most amusing. I wish the movie was just about them, it would have been much better seeing a movie about 2 likable kids dealing with their jerk parents, rather than seeing a movie about 2 jerk parents dealing with their adorable kids. What was Apatow thinking?
The direction is just as aimless as the plot. There is no style here. It just seemed like Apatow set up a couple of cameras and just let the actors make up their dialogue. The script is just a big mess. Now, I would be lying if I said there isn’t anything funny in the script. There is some funny material here, but the way its handled is extremely sloppy. This movie would work so much better as a stand-up routine. In fact, the movie felt like someone took a comedian’s stand-up material and tried to make a script out of it. Every situation that happens feels like it was inspired by a comedic antidote. They may be funny stories to tell, but they don’t gel together one bit as a cohesive feature film. It just doesn’t work.
It also doesn’t help that almost every actor in the movie is some sort of comedian or comic actor. Whether it’s part of the main cast, or just the guy who plays Debbie’s doctor, everyone is trying to be funny. Not EVERY SINGLE person in the world is funny. It’s overkill and made the film even less genuine. And that length! Apatow, you really need to learn how to edit your films. I’m sure you had enough material to make 2 movies, but this movie needed some drastic tightening up. I can think of at least 12 sequences that could have easily been cut.
Now, maybe I’m being too harsh. There were many people laughing at my press screening. But, I wasn’t among them. This is an overindulgent, bloated, sloppy, slapdash comedy featuring a bunch of jerks, that was in desperate need of a tight script. It should’ve been called IMPROVISATION: THE MOVIE. I’m getting real tired of these loose comedies. What happened to carefully scripted comedies? THIS IS 40 is one big unfunny mess of a film that uses hack material to make the audience laugh. A major disappointment! ★ (out of ★★★★)
– Rated R for sexual content, crude humor, pervasive language and some drug material.
– Running time: 2hrs 13min.