This Is 40 - Blu-ray Review

'Apatow shows possibly his keenest script yet in terms of perceptively skewering everyday life'

As a spin-off from a film he made six years ago, starring not only his wife but also his two daughters, This Is 40 could all too easily be dismissed on the face of it as a self-indulgent exercise in filmmaking by writer and director Judd Apatow. Whilst this is definitely an unfair label to plaster over the whole thing, unfortunately it’s a first impression which tends to linger throughout.

Apatow’s strength here, as has been the case ever since his earliest work, is his writing. This Is 40 will make you laugh, and Apatow shows possibly his keenest script yet in terms of perceptively skewering everyday life, putting it on screen and making it funny. It helps that he has at his disposal two strong comedy performers as his leads. Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann successfully transform husband and wife Pete and Debbie from supporting players first seen in 2007’s Knocked Up to main characters here in their own right. Many of This Is 40’s most successful moments come when Rudd and Mann share the screen exclusively. The supporting performances run the gamut from the reliably excellent (Albert Brooks and John Lithgow as Pete and Debbie’s respective, and very different, deadbeat dads) to the average yet enjoyable (Jason Segel and Chris O’Dowd) to the uncomfortably sub-par (Melissa McCarthy, who is mistakenly given free rein to improvise during her main scene and quickly makes a mess of it).

Further problems arise from Apatow’s apparent inability to edit down, and thereby tighten up, his own work. At around the ninety minute mark I was surprised to find that I still had well over half an hour more to watch. Making his films too long is a mistake Apatow should have learned from by now (most notably from 2009’s excruciatingly protracted Funny People) but clearly hasn’t. It’s an error exacerbated further by This Is 40’s largely aimless structure. Much of the film is presented as a series of events linked only by the characters within them, and whilst there are threads which run throughout the film, more often than not Apatow feels like he’s either forgotten to include a story or arrogantly believes he doesn’t need to tell one.

It’s a shame that there are such inherent flaws here, because This Is 40’s strengths are regularly enough to carry it through as an enjoyable film despite its problems. But ultimately this is yet another film which demonstrates that Apatow as screenwriter, with his ego in check, can craft successful comedy; but stick him in the director’s chair and he himself ends up as the film’s biggest problem.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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