“This Is 40” wastes no time putting you in Judd Apatow country. In its opening seconds, our loving married couple – whom we first met in the delicately titled “Knocked Up” – is having sex in the shower. It’s part of their mutual 40th birthday observance even if she insists to the rest of the world that she’s 38.
She’s the one hitting 4-0 first. Then, not long after, it’s his turn. And now she discovers that Viagra was part of his 40th birthday plans and she’s peeved. “We are young people,” she insists. “We don’t have to take medication to have sex.”
And there you have in capsule form the secret of Apatow’s extraordinary current success in industrial Hollywood comedy. He makes elongated sitcoms for movie theaters. But what’s important to viewers is that they’re often freakier and geekier than most people’s sitcoms. And they’re more frank and pungent about issues at hand, sometimes to the point where they’re a bit startling.
The male half of our well-settled California suburbanites likes to disappear into the bathroom with his iPad for 30 minutes at a time. Which, in this film about domestic life, means, yes, you’re just going to have to put up with a sizable conversation between husband and wife through an open bathroom door. “Who takes a half hour to go the bathroom?” she bristles accusingly. “John Goodman,” he snaps back, in a joke I’d bet Goodman probably thinks is funny.
They have two adorable daughters, one a sullen pubescent of 13 who has just gotten her period and is working through every episode of “Lost.” The other is a little sweetheart of 8 who brags to her sister “I can handle nightmares. You’re a nightmare to me.”
The couple’s two girls are played by the two real Apatow daughters, Maude and Iris. Considering that Apatow is married to female co-star Leslie Mann, that makes “This Is 40” a big movie sitcom the way sitcoms sometimes used to be in the earliest TV – “The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show,” for instance, which starred a real husband and wife and featured appearances by their son Ronnie acting fictionally.
Actor Paul Rudd is the star and clear cut Apatow stand-in.
It’s also oh-so-comfy despite what author Herbert Gold once called “happy problems.” And Apatow – who began as a stand-up comic and has been a benevolent executive presence on movies as hilarious as “Bridesmaids” – knows his way around funny lines. Just as any TV sitcom does, this movie can come up with a funny line or 30. It knows how to put a comic sting in the tail of domestic dialogue, too.
Our fictional hero has founded his own record company and he thinks he’s going to score big with a record by one-time indie favorites Graham Parker and Rumour (played by, yes, Graham Parker and Rumour). When their new reunion disc hits the world with sales in the middle three figures, some rethinking is clearly necessary.
Carefully note that the joke here is that our hero’s idea of integrity is hopelessly anachronistic. File that away while deciding exactly now much the world needs Apatow.
Meanwhile each member of our couple has a father who’s a pain. Both have gone on to have young second families. Rudd’s dad is a hopeless mooch played by Albert Brooks. Mann’s father is a distant and proper surgeon played by John Lithgow.
And you can see where the plot developments involving each are going throughout the whole movie. No GPS is necessary, I assure you.
It’s a sitcom world, which means everything is superficial and every bit of smart alecky and knowingness will be disencumbered of unseemly heavy baggage before it’s over.
With all the bracing candor sometimes of “This Is 40,” almost none of it rang true to me. But that may be an outgrowth of a simple fact about this couple hitting 40: I’m not sure this supposed specimen couple of upscale California climbers (their house is out of their league and they know it) is all that likable over the two hours and 20 minutes of our tale. The actors? Sure. The story? Not so much.
In fact, in its final frames, I silently wished them all good luck and secretly wondered how many were invited to the big birthday party and didn’t go.
With, maybe, a bit of relief, too.
Megan Fox plays a beautiful young assistant in the wife’s clothing business with incongruously good financial fortune.
The other “salesgirl” played by Charlene Yi has a delicious moment of self-revelation which is, I swear, alone worth the price of a ticket.
There are enough funny lines to laugh at, to be sure. But if your RSVP has to include a polite decline, I’ll understand. You won’t miss all that much.