Friday, December 21, 2012

The Cinema File #67: "This Is 40" Review

I'm not the biggest Judd Apatow fan you're gonna find out there, so maybe take the next few paragraphs with a grain of salt. I didn't get what I was supposed to find so hilarious about The 40 Year Old Virgin, and I really can't stand the "improv as a substitute for good writing" thing that he's seemed to take from Will Ferrell and turn into a cinematic empire. The one movie I did enjoy slightly more than the others was Knocked Up, the movie This Is 40 has been advertised as a "Sort of Sequel" to. I mention the advertisement specifically, because other than the same actors having the same names as their previous characters and one brief mention of a character in relation to a pot brownie, there is nothing connecting this film to the previous one, and very little of what I liked about that film carried over.

This Is 40 supposedly follows the couple played by Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann in Knocked Up, though it might as well be any two married people for all it matters. I usually have a sentence or two explaining the plot of the film, but unfortunately, I can't do that here, because there really isn't one. A lot of things happen, some funny, some mildly amusing, and many more just bland, though generally inoffensive, but none of it amounts to anything. There are no real character arcs or satisfying through lines rising above a running gag or two. There are moments where I laughed, mostly in the two scenes with Melissa McCarthy and the extended follow-up in the blooper reel, but nothing paid off by the end, or even held the promise to. It's not even that things were set up and just dropped or never resolved, nothing is ever set up in the first place.

This movie feels like Judd Apatow had a lot of disconnected moments from his own life, and a lot of ideas for funny moments about marriage inspired by his own marriage, but couldn't find a functional premise to include them all, so he just started writing them down in some loose sequential order, than got the whole mess greenlit on the strength of his bankability without anybody thinking to mention that he forgot to put in an actual story. The characters are all generally fun and likable, some more so than others, I just wished they would do something that mattered. I actually found myself liking the side characters much more than the main couple, which I guess isn't surprising considering we have the likes of Albert Brooks and John Lithgow on board to pop in and not add to the lack of plot.

The most significant thing to occur in the movie is a character's obsession with the show Lost, which doesn't even pay off in the way you would think, as they keep hinting at her having not yet seen the finale, and you figure they have to do something with the mixed reaction of that episode, but then they don't. It basically just amounts to cross promotional product placement, which they naturally watch on a variety of named I-devices that I somehow want to buy less now because of how crass the thinly veiled Apple commercial was in this movie. And I'm no expert, but I thought part of Apatow's charm was how relatable his movies were to a mass audience. Watching This Is 40, I can't help but think that the problems faced by this family are really only relevant to rich yuppie white people. "Oh no, the record company I started didn't sell as much this year, and I might have to sell my big ass house and buy a smaller one that's still probably bigger than those owned or rented by half the people watching this movie."

"Woe is me"

I hate to keep harping on the no plot thing, but the movie goes out of its way to make it more insulting by including moments of drama amid the disjointed comedic bits that may well have felt earned if they tried a little harder to make the movie cohesive and complete. When the couple fights about real things that married couples fight about, and even begin to question whether they have any reason to stay together, you want to feel for them because the characters in question are genuinely decent and sympathetic, but the conflicts seem so manufactured, escalated at arbitrary moments and deflated just as quickly, because now is the time for an upbeat moment or a gross moment, and the serious moments need to be spaced out between the funny moments. Fuck organic storytelling or narrative structure. I defy you to point to the Act Breaks in this movie. And the climax? Paul Rudd decides to go for a bike ride because his birthday party didn't go well. Riveting!

Tonally speaking, and in terms of the style and pace of the comedy, this seems a lot like every other Apathow movie I've ever seen, so if you're into that, you'll probably find enough here to enjoy. I personally found it more than a bit lackluster, and as an amateur screenwriter who just spent several months agonizing over a very complicated multi-character narrative, a bit insulting as well. As much as I rag on the movie for not establishing the bare minimum requirements of a movie, a story with various twists and turns that culminates into a satisfying conclusion, I can say that the disparate pieces of what could have been a movie are sometimes individually funny. If this had been split up into a series of internet shorts, I might have considered it quite enjoyable if somewhat hit or miss in the end. It just doesn't work as a movie for me at all.

Also Megan Fox takes her shirt off, if you're into that.

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