40 Minutes Too Long, at Least!
To be fair, I haven’t yet seen Funny People, but of the three Judd Apatow-directed films I have seen, This is 40 is most definitely the worst of the lot. It pains me to say that, because I’m generally a big fan of Apatow. But 40 represents a definite downturn in his work, and I think that there are three major reasons for this.
1. The Seinfeld syndrome
AKA, the sidekick syndrome. This is 40 is a spin-off of the far superior Knocked Up, in which Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd played Katherine Heigl’s sister and brother-in-law. They were funny in that film, in small doses, as supporting characters. Here, these characters are asked to carry a movie on their own shoulders, and like Matt LeBlanc (anyone remember him?), they find themselves woefully underprepared to do so. Leslie Mann’s Debbie was already one of the more annoying characters in Knocked Up (perhaps it’s her shrill voice, especially when she needles and nags, as she tends to do most of the time); she doesn’t get any less annoying now that there’s over two hours of her. Paul Rudd’s Pete was an irresponsible doofus in Knocked Up; now he’s an irresponsible doofus for 134 minutes. Comedy!
2. The artist is too close to the art
This is obviously a passion project for Judd Apatow. He’s essentially made an autobiographical film here, with his real-life wife playing his wife in the movie, and his real-life children basically playing themselves. Paul Rudd functions as Apatow’s own stand-in for himself. And, as often happens when a filmmaker is too close to his material, Apatow appears to have lost some perspective and objectivity here. For whatever reason, making a movie this self-indulgent has hampered both the humour and the heart that is to be found in spades in his earlier work. Most of the funny bits are in the first half, and the second half seems to drag on f o r e v e r…seriously, I thought this movie would never end. It isn’t even that the pacing is poor; it’s just that there’s way too much story crammed into this movie, and none of it really amounts to much. At least if it had been an HBO sitcom (which it probably should have been), it would have had some room to breathe, and it might have been more tolerable in half-hour long doses. At two hours and fourteen minutes, This is 40 wears out its welcome with plenty of time to spare.
3. No forward momentum
Once more, to be fair, I haven’t yet seen Funny People, but one of the reasons I loved Apatow’s first two films, The 40 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up, is because they were movies about transitioning in life and growing up. For all their naughty raunchiness, they were films where the protagonists ended up as better people in the end. But This is 40 just runs in place. The characters, who essentially served as foils for Seth Rogan in Knocked Up, aren’t really any further along at the end of this movie than they were at the end of that movie. They don’t really grow at all. They fight and make up, and fight and make up again, and nothing ever really changes for them. And although that may be true to life, it doesn’t make for a particularly engaging fictional narrative. We typically watch movies to see dynamic characters who learn and grow. We want to go on an emotional journey with them that ends somewhere different than where it began. But no such luck here. Again, maybe this mirrors Apatow’s real life. But that’s why he’s a comedian, not a documentarian. He’s here to make us laugh and make us feel something. Unfortunately, what he’s made us feel this time around is boredom.