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Movie review: Laughing through the years in 'This Is 40'

Published December 24, 2012 1:45 pm

Review • Comedy uncovers hard truths about marriage.
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Judd Apatow's new comedy "This Is 40" is all over the place — rambunctious and messy, constantly going off on odd tangents, with more supporting players than one can keep straight, and veering crazily from laughter to tears and back again.

In other words, it's a lot like life for a generation of 40-somethings, which is what makes it a joy to watch.

Apatow reunites audiences with Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann), the married-with-kids couple who were side characters in Apatow's 2007 comedy "Knocked Up." This time, Pete and Debbie are center-stage, about to mark their 40th birthdays.

Pete will mark his with a big party, while Debbie is lying about her age to the point where their kids, Sadie and Charlotte (played by Mann's and Apatow's real-life children, Maude and Iris Apatow), put a "38" on her birthday cake. But the big four-oh is prompting them to make some big changes.

Debbie wants the family to live healthier, which means she has to quit sneaking cigarettes, Pete must give up cupcakes, and Sadie is forced to surrender her electronics — which prompts loud objections from the hormonal Sadie, who's experiencing her first period and is obsessed with watching every episode of "Lost." There also are financial concerns, as Pete struggles to keep his indie record label afloat while Debbie tries to figure out which employee, sexy Desi (Megan Fox) or oddball Jody (Charlyne Yi), is stealing cash from her boutique.

Pete and Debbie have daddy issues. Pete's father, Larry (Albert Brooks), is a mooch with a second wife (Lisa Darr) and 5-year-old triplets. Debbie's father, Oliver (John Lithgow), has been absent from her life for seven years, and she makes a concerted effort to change that.

Apatow's loosey-goosey script leaves plenty of room for discussions of the vagaries of turning 40, from Viagra to hemorrhoids. ("I'd like to keep a small shred of mystery in our relationship," Debbie tells Pete when she finds him attempting to examine his own butt.) Moments of knowing humor — like Pete's bathroom breaks to play Scrabble on his iPad — are interspersed with hard-edged anger, as Pete and Debbie argue, make up, argue some more and work to reconcile the romance of their younger selves with the realities of age and circumstances.

Apatow is a generous host, giving his sprawling cast ample opportunities to insert their own weird humor to the proceedings. These include "Bridesmaids" co-stars Melissa McCarthy and Chris O'Dowd, Jason Segel (Rudd's "I Love You, Man" co-star) and Lena Dunham (from the Apatow-produced "Girls").

But for all the strong comic performances — particularly by Rudd and Brooks — Apatow gives the best bits to his family. Maude Apatow, now 15, is emerging as a gifted comedian with a keen grasp of real-life teen angst. And Mann gives one of the sharpest performances of the year, baring her soul (and the occasional nipple) to capture Debbie's ambivalence toward aging and her fierce determination to keep her family together and her sanity intact.

Through broad and sometimes foul-mouthed humor, "This Is 40" manages to be more accurately observant of the ups and downs of adulthood than more serious filmmakers have been. The jokes are funnier, and more biting, because they're true.


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'This Is 40'

Judd Apatow explores marriage, parenthood and other perils of growing up in this sharp, sweet comedy.

Where • Theaters everywhere.

When • Opens Friday, Dec. 21.

Rating • R for sexual content, crude humor, pervasive language and some drug material.

Running time • 134 minutes.