Is HBO dramedy Girls already making an impression on the movie world? It’s hard not to see a bit of Lena Dunham – she’s in the damn thing, for a start – in This is 40, the latest film from America’s current King of Comedy, Judd Apatow. The influence of the ordinary is growing...
Generally, I try to take films like I find people. If they come across as genuine or empathetic I’ll accept faults because – well, sometimes perfection isn’t terribly interesting anyway, and driven people can be awful bores. And scars always tell better stories than botox.
This is 40 is a case in point. You could drive a golf cart through the faults in this film – it’s disjointed and the two lead characters aren’t always great together, and they couldn’t possibly own a house like that one – but that doesn’t stop it from performing its primary function: to entertain and allow viewers to relate.
In a lot of reviews, This is 40 gets panned for its imperfections while almost totally disregarding its achievements. What This is 40 does – with great ease – is to characterise a midlife, married couple with humour, clarity and a lot of squirming honesty.
As Girls notes so well, very few people are high-achievers who know exactly what they want and how to get it. Most people haven’t a clue, really, beyond vague notions, protective self-delusion, questionable morals and an undeniable knack of making wrong decisions or (worse still) being hopelessly indecisive. And then there are the odd moments of clarity, satisfaction and joy that should be embraced in their splendid isolation.
Getting back to This is 40 (and about bloomin’ time, sez you), you’ve got a film that’s overpopulated by imperfect people: from Paul Rudd’s self-obsessed/indulgent Pete to his wife Debbie (played by Apatow’s real-life missus, Leslie Mann), a woman in denial about her age, her marriage and her thieving staff; John Lithgow as Debbie’s emotionally crippled but outwardly successful father to Albert Brooks’ portrayal of Pete’s shameless leech of a dad.
Throw in some Clerks-like staff at Pete’s crumbling record label (Dunham and Chris O’Dowd’s characters couldn’t catch a cold between them) and Debbie’s almost bankrupt boutique (Megan Fox and – oh, my mouth’s gone numb), Jason Segel’s annoyingly smug personal trainer and Apatow’s two daughters as Pete and Debbie’s energy-sapping kids and you’ve got an ensemble comedy well worth the price of admission.
Sure, it’s no Groundhog Day or Some Like it Hot, but it’s certainly a million movies better than The Hangover (the Avatar of comedies – hugely popular and painfully dull).
And it’s worth seeing just for Melissa McCarthy, who puts in a great, two-scene turn as the irate mother of a child that gets tongue-lashed by Debbie, before reappearing at the end credits with a scary bit of improv.
This is 40 isn’t great, but neither is life. Though both can put a smile on your face, if you let them. And there's nothing wrong with that.