This Is 40

This Is 40 (2012), directed by Judd Apatow

I hope I’m not alone in admitting I love Knocked Up. I recently read an article referring to it as a forgettable film. I disagree. Sure it’s no masterpiece, but it’s funny and charming and entertaining and makes me tear up every time. It’s one of a few films that I can’t turn the channel on whenever it’s on TV.

And I have a lot of love for Judd Apatow in general. Sure, his movies are manipulative, simplistic, unnecessarily crude, juvenile and narcissistic, but dammit if that’s not what I love about them. They always seem honest at least, that Apatow, bless him, puts his best intentions and complete effort behind every one of them. He was the common man, the nerd made big, one of us.

Well, fame may be taking its toll.

I was pretty jacked about This Is 40, Apatow’s “sort of” sequel to Knocked Up and the first film he’s directed since 2009′s under-appreciated Funny People.

Unfortunately, there are a few problems with the film.

For one thing, Apatow seems to have forgotten about plot with This is 40. I get that he’s going for a slice-of-life approach to these characters and is literally trying to get across what life is like at 40. Unfortunately these characters are not interesting or likable enough (unlike the leads in Knocked Up) to sustain that kind of approach and the film lacks a definable plot to bring it all together.

Awkward conversations, jokes about aging bodies and random moments of drama are fine, but without the glue of a plot holding it all together they drift about in a film that seems wayward at best and completely lost at its worst.

And, rant time, here’s why the characters aren’t likable: the film should have been called This is 40 if You’re White Upper-class and Californian.

I get that Apatow and Mann, his real-life wife (hello uncomfortable nudity), ARE white (or Jewish. Are Jewish people Caucasian? Is this a socially acceptable question?), upper-class and Californian. And he has every right film what he knows, it’s what I like about him. But this was hard to relate to.

For instance, if I was having money problems I think the first thing I would do is probably cancel the catering and champagne at my birthday party. And then sell the BMW. And the mansion. Just saying. If I lent my father $80,000 I myself would then be around $78,000 in debt. I assume most people would relate.

So to hear them worry about money and argue over whether their kids spend too much time on their own iPhones, iPads, iPods, iWhateverelses kind of made me want to slap them.

If Apatow realized this and made that a joke in itself I could relate to it, but he never bates a cinematic eyebrow as he tries to muster up sympathy for characters I would intentionally avoid at a social gathering. Don’t get me wrong, I would go to that birthday party, for the food and champagne. But I would leave before the cake.

This is 40 has its moments. Rudd and Mann, the actors, manage to still be occasionally likable playing insufferable people. Jason Segel and Chris O’Dowd are great for comic relief (although it’s a bad sign that a “comedy” needs notable comic-relief). There are some touching moments. Megan Fox’s notorious attractiveness is played to in occasionally hilarious ways.

But mostly it is an overlong, messy bit of work, lacking in direction, a point and, worst of all, appeal. I would say this is Apatow’s first major stumble as a director.

This is 40 is in cinemas now.

The Five-Year Engagement

The Five-Year Engagement (2012), directed by Nicholas Stoller

This is always a hard type of movie to review. There’s really nothing contentious or notable to sink your teeth into. It didn’t piss me off or help me to reevaluate the meaning of life. It’s really quite delightful, very funny and enjoyably charming. I had a lovely time watching it. Review over.

Naw, I joke. Let’s talk about what makes it so darn charming.

First off, Jason Segel, obviously. Let’s just say it, Segel is an American treasure. I love this man as an actor so dearly. He’s sort of a modern everyman type, a la James Stewart or Tom Hanks, but I do mean modern. He has the wholesome charm thing going on, but at the same time can curse like a sailor, show his ass (or more) in every movie he’s in and still come out looking like the nicest guy in the world.

He’s also hilarious and I think he makes good choices. Forgetting Sarah Marshall was a surprisingly excellent movie and really I don’t think Segel has made a dud yet. All that and he’s one of the main reasons How I Met Your Mother is one of the best shows on TV. Bro’s got it.

So there’s that (meaning me gushing). And then there is Emily Blunt. Frankly I haven’t seen her in much but I think this film is going to get her some more notice. She is fantastic in it. She’s great because she is obviously so beautiful but is so silly and funny and acts (at least it seemed to me) like a real woman. Her character, Violet, isn’t some manic pixie chick, but a lovely, imperfect, strong, complicated woman. That’s refreshing.

Also refreshing is that the film as a whole is complicated. I must admit, I love romantic comedies, but really only this type of romantic comedy. If things are too heavily glossed over (or if it stars Kate Hudson or Matthew McConaughey. Or both. Shudder.) I tend to want to throw up a little.

But Five-Year Engagement isn’t like that. Sure it has enough gushy, over-the-top moments to make the old heart flutter (and maybe make a film critic mist up a little…Shut up.), but it also comes across as honest. Violet and Tom’s relationship isn’t perfect, they’re not perfect. And that’s an understatement. They both make huge mistakes and have many relatable relationship problems to overcome. This ain’t no fairy tale romance.

The film is from the Judd Apatow factory of comedy that has taken over Hollywood. For a while there it was the Ferrell, Wilsons, Stiller crew that ruled our laughter, but then Knocked Up and Superbad came out and changed the game. I don’t think Apatow and his cronies are as on top as they were two or three years ago, and the Ferrell comedy still has some legs, but with this and Apatow’s own This Is 40 (a sort-of sequel to Knocked Up) out this year it’s a reminder that this awkward, little man is still bringing the goods.

Holy hell, I just did a little more research, and Apatow also produced Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers…all the Ferrell gems. I take everything I just said back. Apatow controls EVERYTHING. He probably makes like 10 cents every time somebody laughs. He probably gets laughing royalties. He has a hand in everything funny said or written nowadays, so why not, he’s earned it. But he must be stopped. Whatever you do, don’t laugh at this review, I’m pretty sure Apatow produced it…somehow…

Really I could go on, but you get the point. The Five-Year Engagement is a lovely time out at the cinema. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry (shut up), you might even guffaw. Segel is amazing as always, Blunt is charming yet so intelligently funny, the plot is good, the situations relatable. It’s all good. And Matthew McConaughey isn’t in it even once.

The Five-Year Engagement is in theatres now.