‘This is 40’ takes a look at contemporary family life

Lee McClelland

Director Judd Apatow has debuted a new film, “This is 40,” which is set in the universe of another popular 2007 film “Knocked Up.”

The story follows up on Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann), the couple who play opposite Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl in “Knocked Up.”

The film picks up a few years after the events of “Knocked Up,” and Apatow focuses in on Pete, Debbie, their two kids and a marriage tested by the onset of both main characters’ fortieth birthday.

What is impressive about Apatow’s writing, style and technique is his knack for taking the most mundane events of life — private time in the bathroom playing “Angry Birds” or indulging in a cigarette — and squeezing hilarity out of them.

This is one of his strengths: Apatow has established himself as a screenwriter and director who is able to capture real life moments through a wide-angle comedic lens.

The same is true of “This is 40.” It is revealed that Pete now runs his own record label, while Debbie owns a fashion boutique. One of their daughters has gone through puberty, so the issue of maturity divides the two siblings. Pete and Debbie’s marriage is strained. There is turmoil in becoming middle-aged.

And for students, the humor may be lost. Those who have children, entered into their 40s and undergo the stresses of marriage and work will find this film to be a refreshing, realistic film brimming with scenes that induce side-splitting laughter.

A particular scene where Pete and Debbie spy on their daughter’s Facebook page appeals to both younger and older crowds, yet Apatow’s decision to appeal to an older audience does not alienate a younger one.

There is a lot to be said in the film about constant connectivity. Whether it is an iPad playing “Lost” on the ride to school or an iPod blaring Nicki Minaj, Pete and Debbie are competing with the digital age for their children’s attention and affection.

Apatow, as a father, brings up an important question in a delightfully comedic way.

In fact, his wife Leslie Mann plays Debbie, and the girls in the film are his daughters. This 21st century problem is brought to light using Apatow’s own flesh and blood on screen. This, at times, is powerful.

As Pete and Debbie grow frustrated with each other throughout the duration of the film, their marriage is juxtaposed on their own individual problems.

Pete’s record label is floundering financially; he has an affinity for sweets that is affecting his health; his father is an imposing figure, always asking for money; and, above all else, he cannot even sit on the toilet without being accused of avoiding his family.

One of Debbie’s employees is embezzling money; she lies about her age, cannot quite smoking, is overly emotional at all the wrong times and trying to start a defunct relationship with an estranged biological father.

Apatow drops all of these aspects of Pete and Debbie’s marriage upon the audience, and the result is both humorous and dramatic.

While college students might not understand the writing, it is truly brilliant. Though I thoroughly enjoyed Apatow’s “This is 40,” I feel the same way about real life as I do his fictional creations.

“Knocked Up,” “Pineapple Express,” “Funny People” and “This is 40” all have the same thing in common: they are anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes too long.

Some scenes I found myself wondering, when is this going to end? After periods devoid of laughter and Paul Rudd’s flat comedic performance, I was waiting for the movie to come to a close.

And when the film did draw to a close, it did so abruptly. Leslie Mann’s performance was consistent, though tired.

Apatow casts his wife in most of his movies, and she plays (it seems) the same character every time.

The best comedic acting in the whole movie was done by Melissa McCarthy, who was featured in only two scenes.

With medium grade actors filling the gaps (Lena Dunham, Michael Ian Black and Chris O’Dowd) and phenomenal actors who are filling minor, lackluster roles (John Lithgow, Albert Brooks and Jason Segel), one has to wonder where Apatow was on casting day.

Judd Apatow has created a comedy that employs the gamut of human emotion. Through it, he mimics real life experiences while remaining genuinely funny.

Apatow could learn, though, that unlike life, a director can edit out the dull scenes.