With 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, writer-director Judd Apatow gave a white bread Middle America a voice with which to shout its meager frustrations while simultaneously deflating them. Unfortunately This is 40, his paean to the onset of middle age, lacks the wit, energy, and goofball insight to do more than whimper.
Touted as a sequel to Knocked Up, it is more of a spin-off (not that it really matters in the long run). Paul Rudd and Apatow’s real-life wife Leslie Mann reprise their supporting roles as that movies requisite stable couple Pete and Debbie. They’re less stable this time around, however; Pete’s start-up record company is tanking, and one of the employees (Megan Fox and Charlyne Yi) at Debbie’s clothing store is skimming from the till.
On the home front, their kids Sadie and Charlotte (Apatow and Mann’s daughters Maude and Iris) are growing increasingly rebellious, Pete’s father Larry (Albert Brooks) increasingly mooches, and Debbie’s attempt to reconnect with her absentee father Oliver (John Lithgow) go nowhere. Pete and Debbie’s birthdays are coming up, and they are both turning 40, though she insists on maintaining that she is only 38. Throw in a waning sex life and you have, well, pretty much every middle-aged married couple on the planet.
Sure, it’s material we can relate to, but it isn’t inherently funny, and Apatow seems to struggle desperately to make it so with limited results. We learn little about his characters because they know nothing about themselves or each other, making it difficult to give a damn one way or another. The supporting cast — which includes Jason Segel, Chris O’Dowd, Mary McCarthy, and Lena Dunham — fares better in throwaway roles that make us pine for movies that could have been. (Even the normally wooden Fox shows some strong comedy chops.)
To make matters worse, at 134 minutes, it is way too long for its own good; after about 45 minutes you wish Peter and Debbie would just file for divorce and get it over with.