This Is 40 – Judd Apatow’s sort-of sequel to Knocked Up (but not really)

Judd Apatow, writer and director of This Is 40, is a guy with a lot of fingers in a lot of pies in both the film and TV world. Writer and executive producer of cult TV show Freaks and Geeks, producer of latest TV hit Girls, producer of a huge range of brilliant comedy films such as Anchorman, Superbad and Bridesmaids, and writer and director of some of his own productions such as Knocked Up and Funny People. All of these titles, especially his own films, have a noticeable trait that makes them all memorable classics. They are all hilariously funny. But they also have a touching, emotional side to them that comes from the stories and the situations the characters find themselves in. And his new film, This Is 40, is no exception to the Apatow rule.

This Is 40 is the sort-of, but not sort-of sequel to Knocked Up. Rather than show us what happened to the mismatched Ben (Seth Rogen) and Alison (Katherine Heigl) who suddenly found themselves dealing with a pregnancy in Knocked Up, This is 40 instead follows the lives of two minor characters from that previous film: Alison’s sister Debbie (Leslie Mann) and her husband Pete (Paul Rudd). The big problem this married couple face is that they are both turning 40 in the same week. Or, as Debbie resolutely says: HE is turning 40, she is turning 38. What follows is how this couple deal with their impending ages – her decision that they need to change their lifestyle to be better people by spending more time as a couple, healthy eating, and having more quality time with their two daughters Sadie (Maude Apatow) and Charlotte (Iris Apatow) by restricting the amount of technology they all use (or that Sadie uses). Pete just wants to sort out the money troubles his failing record company is having so they can ensure a secure future though – a big problem he is trying to keep secret from Debbie…

Although this seems like a film that shows a wholly different issue than that in Knocked Up, it still deals with the same underlying concerns. Yes, it’s main subject is growing old. But like Knocked Up it too also deals with family, life and seeking happiness. Without making This Is 40 sound like a boring issues film though, this is first and foremost a comedy. The script is hilarious and packed with outrageous laugh out loud moments. You won’t get all the references being thrown back and forth at lightning speed (I know I didn’t) but that doesn’t matter as there are still plenty more moments to enjoy throughout.

Most importantly the cast are all excellently funny as well. Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann again show the easy chemistry they had onscreen in Knocked Up as the ageing couple trying to be better people and better with each other. Also Maude and Iris Apatow, Judd Apatow and Leslie Mann’s two real life children reprise their roles as Debbie and Pete’s kids; and are again incredibly funny and genuinely convincing in their roles – maybe because a lot of what they do onscreen is how they would react and behave in real life. Watching their performances from Knocked Up to Funny People they can practically be witnessed growing onscreen. In fact Maude Apatow has become an incredible actress and is one of the most hilarious characters in This Is 40 as the 13-year-old who is also trying to cope with growing up (as well as her body changing), mostly by screaming and swearing and burying her head in TV programmes. But both Maude and Iris’s naturalistic presence lends This Is 40, as well as the other films they have been in, another layer of realism, making what happens onscreen a lot more poignant.

There are also the usual great cameos from others in This Is 40 – Megan Fox as Desi proves she too can do funny, playing on her own over sexualised image always used by the media. Chris O’Dowd as Ronnie, Pete’s lazy co-worker, Albert Brooks as Pete’s father who constantly manipulates him for money, John Lithgow as Debbie’s estranged father, and Annie Mumolo as Debbie’s friend are also all brilliantly funny. Actually there is just too many funny cameos to mention (and mentioning a few might spoil the surprise for you anyway…).

However don’t expect a Seth Rogen/Katherine Hiegl cameo in this. The film very much focuses on Debbie and Pete, leaving the previous film’s couple in movie limbo. There are people who appeared in Knocked Up who turn up in this one, notably Jason Segel and Charlyne Yi, although it isn’t even declared that they are playing the same characters they did in the previous film (their character’s names are the same though). But in my opinion, had Apatow decided to have a whole list of returning characters and have Ben and Alison pop up with their now slightly older kid, it would have made for an incredible forced and cringey moment. In fact I applaud Apatow for making a sequel that actually isn’t one in the usual terms of what makes and defines a sequel. He has been bold not to give in and use obvious knowing nods to fans of Knocked Up, instead focusing entirely on a different couple and their family. Rather than alienating fans though, Apatow creates a film that is still very much in the same vein as Knocked Up. Throughout any of his films or other productions, Apatow always uses a big dose of realistic emotions and touching, sad moments. From the struggles Ben and Alison have to cope with around their impending parenthood, to the serious, life-changing issue of cancer in Funny People, Judd Apatow isn’t afraid to show realistic moments and real tears among the laughter. And in This Is 40 there are again plenty of touching moments to make you cry as well as laugh. And it is this element that will mean fans of Knocked Up will not be disappointed.

One criticism of the film though is the running time. A lot of Apatow’s films are very long – way over 2 hours. Often with Apatow films it seems like he doesn’t know when to stop, unable to self-edit his script to take out moments that would keep the pace of the film up if they were removed. This Is 40 is no different, often feeling like it would benefit greatly from a few scenes being taken out. But as it stands, the running time may challenge some viewers looking for a short, breezy comedy. If you can keep your concentration about you for the full film though, then the end result is more than rewarding.

With This Is 40, Apatow again creates a very funny film with a delicate, heartfelt centre running through it. Apatow’s script is hilarious, if overly long, but that can be forgiven when the finished film is something as great and entertaining as this. The cast are perfect especially Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd as the couple turning 40 and Maude and Iris Apatow as their kids. The end result is a film that will relate to pretty much everyone, even if you don’t have a family. Everyone fears growing old, no matter what age they’re turning…

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~ by square-eyed-geek on March 5, 2013.

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