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Classic Recordings
Robert Altman Week

Wednesday
Jan022013

« In Which Money Buys Judd Apatow Happiness »

With Luxury

by SHELBY SHAW

This Is 40
dir. Judd Apatow
133 minutes

If anything, Judd Apatow should have titled his new effort This Is My Life In 2012, and not only because Apatow’s wife of 15 years is cast as the lead mom/wife, Debbie (Leslie Mann), alongside the couple’s two daughters as 13-year-old Sadie (Maude Apatow) and 8-year-old Charlotte (Iris Apatow). Alternatives such as This Is Marriage or This Is Family or even This Is Life would not have been any better.

The family in This Is 40, rounded out by the deceiving and charming Pete (Paul Rudd), is anything but typical. Sure, the daughters go through tantrums against the parents and bouts of getting along/hating one another, and there are plenty of problems stemming from woes of finances and in-laws, but this is not the average American family. For one thing, their California house is gorgeous and massive, and at one point even called out as too big for the four of them by Pete’s overbearingly dependent father, Larry (Albert Brooks), who Pete secretly continues to lend money to despite having told Debbie he hasn’t done so in years.

Despite the family’s lavish home, decorated and conveniently organized like a Pottery Barn catalogue, and the private catering for Pete’s 40th birthday party (only days after Debbie’s own birthday, which is celebrated as turning 38), and the nice cars they each have, and Debbie’s personal trainer Jason (Jason Segel), and Sadie’s random anger outburst in her walk-in closet over needing new clothes – despite all this, the family is having financial problems.

Debbie’s clothing boutique, Lulu’s, is your dime-a-dozen L.A. clothing store, something you would find in the likes of New Canaan or Katonah, and seems to be relatively new at her career. Whatever she did beforehand for a job is a mystery. Pete is a music producer, and manages the British rocker Graham Parker, whose latest album is hardly selling past 600 copies.

So how does this family of four manage to have weekend get-aways and still afford their life in-house? While, let’s not forget, secretly supplying $80,000 to Larry, in order to support him, his wife and their test-tube triplets who are always dressed in the exact same outfit? Something seems a little suspicious about their money 'woes', until at one point (late in the film) Debbie mentions how Pete’s left Sony to work on his own. So he made a lot of money in the past, I guess, and it’s lasted them through now.

Oh, and provided all of their little goodies along the way. The cars, Pete’s bicycle and matching Livestrong gear, Debbie’s trainer, and the girls’ countless personal items (including photos with Justin Bieber and the Jonas brothers, both of which are events that probably happened in the Apatows’ lives but here are simply shameless props), constitute the mere basics – This Is 40 is essentially a commercial for Apple.

It would be impossible to think Apple was not a sponsor, considering how iPhone, iPad, iTunes, iHome, etc are all used not only physically, but named constantly by the characters. Yes, many/most people own an Apple product. But the way we just end up expecting the girls to watch Lost on an iPad, or for Pete to be found playing Scrabble on his iPad while on the toilet, or for Debbie to pull out her iPhone, or jump onto her MacBook in order to see if hot-to-trot salesgirl Desi (Megan Fox) is stealing $12,000 from Lulu’s, all feels like too much of a privilege.

Is this really what being 40 is about? Having all the latest technology in a big house with a swimming pool and caterers and doctors' appointments where they all seem to promise you good fortune and good looks and good health just for showing up? I may not be 40, I may not be married, I may not have kids, but I know that this isn’t what your average household is up to. Maybe in Los Angeles or Orange County, or even Fairfield or Westchester counties on the opposite coast, but I live there and that is not even what most of those families are like.

The film is about having privilege and luxury, alongside “common” domestic problems. But it probably does not speak to the majority of families, married couples, or even 40-year-olds in the country. Debbie’s constant fear of Pete losing interest in her would insult me as a viewer if I were 40 – I am sure the majority of women that age would kill to have Debbie’s looks; in fact, I would not mind looking like that right now and I am half her age. Together, the couple effortlessly steals the attention when they are out, like something out of a bank commercial, as pointed out by an angry and outlandishly brutish parent from school, Catherine (Melissa McCarthy).

I am not even sure that kids who would see the film, for whatever reason, would be able to relate to Sadie and Charlotte. Puberty can make any adolescent seethe with unwarranted rage. Sadie comes off as simply unstable with anger when she throws tantrums over needing new clothing in her walk-in closet or hating her family for not letting her carry out a bizarre obsession with watching as much Lost in as little time as she can. Meanwhile Charlotte seems the quiet prodigy of  a piano playing and humble family caretaker, but is more of just a Shirley Temple-esque face for the screen, making “cute” kid quips about this or that, often with the kind of stilted candor only a child who hasn’t had much time to practice the lines could deliver. Regardless, my biggest question is whether all kids these days own iPads and have iPhones that their parents take away when they are grounded.

The perfect lives of the family, chipped here and there by stress from work or each other, are hardly entertaining when the ending comes together in an almost too-resolved fashion. And aside from Rudd and Mann’s good looks, their conversations feed off one another like something from improv comedy; it’s like they constantly are mocking the other’s lines, and it gets annoying quickly.

The couple seems the most genuine when either high on marijuana cookies, practicing the kind of talk their therapist suggested, or simply crying. This Is 40 tries too hard to portray what it's trying to sell itself as: the poster-child for mid-life crises, family dysfunction and love, and coming to terms with yourself in your age. It should have been called This Is What You Wish 40 Could Be, because there does not seem to really be anything wrong.

Shelby Shaw is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer and artist living in Chicago. You can find her website here. She twitters here.

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    In Which Money Buys Judd Apatow Happiness - Home - This Recording

Reader Comments (4)

The movie makes more sense to forty-year olds - not twenty-year olds. This Recording should be more mindful of this subjective aspect of film review when making decisions about their content. It's actually interesting to read what a twenty-year old thinks about the movie. Kind of sweet.
January 2, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDottie
To say I despise Leslie Mann doesn't make sense because I don't know her personally, so how can I really know what she is like? But the fact that she has a career because she is married to Judd Apatow annoys the hell out of me. I'm not saying she shouldn't take advantage of her excellent luck, but it is annoying as hell.
January 3, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterderby
Yes! The privelege the family of This Is 40 displays is in sync with the absurd improv-like back-and-forths that you describe. Another alternate title: This Is Spoiled. Really like the article.
January 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLD
This movie made no sense to this 46-year-old. I'm glad someone in their 20s had the good sense to see through the nonsense. An intelligent director would have made something of the utter absurdity of the grotesque degree of sheer plenty these dopes unreflectively wallow in while imagining they have problems, but that director wouldn't be Judd Apatow, poster child of arrested development. It's practically a meta-movie about sheer entitled childishness.

Look at that sad picture of the dummy in cycling gear. And yet Apatow steadfastly refuses to consider what that kind of presentation means, except as something kinda funny that men might kinda aspire to.

Did you know that in 3 years Apatow will be the same age Bergman was when he made Persona?
January 9, 2013 | Unregistered Commenter40something

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