Friday, December 21, 2012

This is a This Is 40 review

You can tell Judd Apatow gets a kick out of watching his family act on film. He likes to watch his wife get to stretch out her acting muscles. He likes seeing his kids on screen talk back to their mother and their "father," he likes them as characters on screen and as people. You can tell he cares about his family and wants the best for all of them. Judd Apatow is probably a great, caring father and husband. But this movie isn't as fun to watch for the rest of us. It's not even that it's because it contains his children and his wife; Judd Apatow simply can't get over his own faults: his movies are too long and oftentimes take too long to go from one plot point to the next.

This is 40 is his biggest offender because the plot of the film is razor thin. It's a nice little portrait of an upper middle class American family, but it could always go a little deeper. It may reflect a version of reality, but it could have afforded to get realer. There's plenty of funny moments that can be derived out of anyone's family and Judd gets a lot of that in the film, but it takes too long to get to each moment. There's quite a few of them too. If the movie was shorter, we'd be able to enjoy them more.

I've watched Judd Apatow talk in a lot of different interviews and keeps asking out loud why people make a big deal about a filmmaker portraying his own family on screen. Sometimes it can work. Sometimes a director can create a strong film and his wife/lover is in the lead role. That's been the case dozens of times. I suppose directors can successfully direct their own children on screen as well. But when you're literally trying to recreate what they do in real life and transfer it onto the big screen, there's bound to be some inconsistencies. There's bound to be things you think are amusing, but isn't for the rest of us. I know that must be the case. I know I found my own family very amusing, but I can't guarantee others will find them as amusing. Judd Apatow knows his wife and children more than any of us could ever know. So, what he thinks is funny may not be as funny to us. Therein lies the fault in filming your family on screen.

You can pretty much gather what this film is about: a married couple, with children, going through the "crisis" of turning 40. Certainly there's a lot that can be mined in this territory: kids constantly at each other's throats, perhaps the couple's passion has gotten lost in the shuffle, maybe they're not even sure if they like each other anymore. May have issues with house payments, relatives mooching off you, issues with your folks, other parents at school, etc. Some of This is 40's best moments are when it just gets into the heart of what it's about: a couple that love each other and are in it for the long haul. My favorite sequence was when the two of them go off on their own mini-vacation and just have fun together. They stop the bickering and just enjoy each other's company. There was a lot of funny moments in this sequence and could've probably been made into its own 90 minute movie.

But, like in real life, watching family members bicker at each other constantly is hard to watch after awhile. Maybe making this movie was a great lesson in couples' therapy for Leslie Mann, Judd Apatow, and their kids, but it doesn't necessarily make for a great film. It's enjoyable. At least 100 minutes of it is pretty damn good, but this is a 135 minute film. I admire you Judd Apatow, but for God's sake, you have to start being more critical of yourself in the editing room. You'll be a better filmmaker for it, trust me. This tendency is really starting to get the best of you.

At its best, This Is 40 is an above-average Alexander Payne film (Sideways, The Descendants), at its worst, it enters cheesy James L. Brooks territory (As Good as it Gets, Spanglish). Personally, I admired the effort more than I enjoyed the film. I admire Judd Apatow as a filmmaker and producer  and think he gets a lot of undeserved flack. He's a filmmaker with one glaring problem: the editing. I have hope he'll be able to fix this problem as he makes more films, until then, we're gonna have to settle for this.

Grade: C+

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