Movie Review: This Is Forty (2012)

 

this is forty

by Alan F. Zundel

I remember the year I turned forty. It was 1992. Clinton and Bush were running for the Presidency, and a cranky old rich white guy came out of nowhere to create problems for the Bush campaign. My, how things have changed.

Other things haven’t changed so much. Forty is the magic year when you think, “Huh, I’m forty.” You assess your life and end up reducing your expectations. Clearly you are not going to achieve everything you hoped for. And you realize that if you want to be happy, you have to work on your attitude.

The situation is a little more dramatic for the central characters in writer/director Judd Apatow’s movie, “This Is Forty,” but they are going through that same wringer. And I stress the drama deliberately, because even though this is billed as a comedy I felt sorry for the central characters more than I laughed at them.

When I turned forty I had been a graduate student six of the previous seven years, so we were pretty poor. I was struggling with research on a dissertation and questioning whether I really wanted to go into academia. So there were financial and career problems. But I was happy in my marriage and my kids were well-behaved.

Debbie and Pete (Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd), on the other hand, own their own businesses and live in a beautiful home in the Los Angeles area. They can take a weekend vacation and drive along the southern California coast to a nice hotel to renew the passion in their marriage. But their businesses aren’t doing well, they argue endlessly, and their kids are out of control, especially Sadie (Maude Apatow), a girl in her early teens who throws histrionic tantrums.

You would think I would have trouble feeling sorry for them. After all, despite their financial issues they are better off than I was—actually, better off than I am now—and much of what they have to deal with is the result of their own failings as partners and parents.

But I did. These are not realistic characters, their actions and reactions are often way over-the-top bordering on crazy, but they were strangely sympathetic. In that I give credit to the lead actors, Mann and Rudd. Mann in particular conjures a human being out of the caricature she is handed, that of the suburban wife and mother trying her best but unravelling over the mundane annoyances of life. Rudd manages to be likeable despite the fact that Paul lies to his wife and secretly confesses he would like to kill her.

I cared about them because they cared about each other. In the midst of their constant arguments you can see the light bulb going off—why are we yelling at each other?—and the regret in their faces afterward. They are affectionate towards their children. They want to be better people than they are. I really wanted them to make it through the tsunami of irritations that Apatow piles on them, to learn something from it and come out okay.

But I hardly laughed at all. Smiled a lot, chuckled several times, and laughed aloud once, but for a comedy this did not inspire much mirth in me. The funniest part, actually, was an out take in the end credits with Melissa McCarthy improvising a blue streak of profanities.

I guess this is sixty-three. I don’t find swearing, sex and fart jokes all that funny most of the time. Maybe when I am doing them, but not as professional entertainment. The script leans on that kind of stuff heavily for its humor. I suppose younger people get it. I don’t. It has to be exceptionally creative or surprising to get me to laugh, and here it fires at you so relentlessly it’s more wearying than surprising.

I haven’t seen all of Apatow’s movies, but many of the ones I have seen are strange hybrids of crude humor and sentimental homilies about marriage and family. “The Forty-Year Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up”—the pattern is the same.

The juxtaposition must work for his audience, as Apatow has made tons of money with these movies, but sometimes I find it jarring. I begin to care about this woman trying to get her family’s bad habits on a better track, when she suddenly begins acting like an idiot and teasing and swearing at someone else’s kid. Fortunately Apatow has a reliable stable of actors to help him pull it off.

Mann and Rudd, as noted, work as the childish adults at the heart of the story. Chris O’Dowd, Albert Brooks, Melissa McCarthy, Tim Bagley and Jason Segel are only asked to be funny and they deliver. Megan Fox is asked to be eye-candy and she delivers in spades.

Don’t get me wrong, it was an amusing movie. Maybe in that it reflects what it is like to turn forty. You find it amusing because it is hard to believe this is really happening, but underlying the wry smile is a sad acknowledgement that you are who you are and this is the best you can do.

But you’re not sure yet if that’s a comedy—or a tragedy.

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