Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up was a sly blend of comedy and the dramatic entanglements of a paper-thin relationship. This is 40 is the same type of story, only relentlessly magnified. Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) were the couple in Knocked Up who seemed to make marriage look like a never-ending pit of sorrow. They still had feelings for each other, but their persistent fault-finding and back-stabbing was beginning to take its toll. Their marriage appeared to be quickly disintegrating. This is 40 picks up five years later, with Pete and Debbie’s marriage hanging by a thread.
This is 40 is less comedic than its predecessor. Knocked Up was more of a comedy than a family drama. This is 40 is a family drama with a little bit of comedy mixed in for good measure. Make no mistake, Apatow is taking a deep, unfiltered look at how a marriage can fall apart due to seemingly little things. The way he creates tension between Pete and Debbie will be eerily familiar to anyone who finds themselves in the same kind of predicament.
Pete and Debbie find themselves, more or less, putting up with each other for their kids’ sake. They don’t want to admit it, but that’s what they’re doing. They’ve made it this far, their kids are older, and they’ve managed to get on each other’s last nerve. Watching them nitpick their way through their marriage is both funny and sad. Here are two people that were once, in love, and have over the years fallen out of love. They haven’t cultivated their emotions in healthy ways. They haven’t made time to express their feelings to each other, and have found that they’ve slowly slipped into a loveless marriage. At times, it’s painful to watch.
Pete’s new record company has hit hard times. On top of that he and his wife aren’t seeing eye-to-eye and their oldest daughter is pulling out as many misguided teenage “I hate you!” exclamations as she can muster. Because they don’t have each other to fall back on, they just fall.
The commercials are doing This is 40 a disservice. There is a lot of raw emotion here that isn’t conveyed in the trailers. The trailers make you think you’re heading out to another raunchy, laugh-out-loud Apatow comedy, when in reality this movie is much more of a hybrid of laughs and tears. The funny parts – like Albert Brooks playing Pete’s mooch of a dad – are really funny, yet the dramatic parts carry the movie.
Leslie Mann’s performance here is something to watch. She’s simultaneously hilarious, complicated, and distraught. She’s worn down and beaten, yet she’s trying to stay upbeat. How Mann juggles this multitude of emotions is a testament to her abilities as an actress. This movie requires much more of its actors than just making us giggle from time to time. There’s some real humanistic depth here. Heavy issues that are explored providing conclusions that aren’t always easy to accept.
This is 40 could easily be considered a horror movie for those couples in their 30s with kids. Maybe it’s a cautionary tale of sorts. It shows how it isn’t the big things that usually break up marriages. It’s the small, seemingly insignificant things that eat away at its fabric until there’s nothing left holding up a couple’s vows. There’s an inexorable truth in this film: if you want a healthy marriage, you have to work at it every day.