Let’s get something straight, Mr. Apatow. When you are the Godfather of Modern Comedy, when you’ve fostered as many big names as Lorne Michaels, when you can get Lindsey Buckingham to record original songs for your glorified home movie, your right to portray yourself as the schlubby underdog who eats too many cupcakes has been revoked. It just feels like a humblebrag. Its 2012 — nerds are cool now. And guess who made it that way? You did.
Like Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David did with Seinfeld in the 80s and 90s, Apatow’s films capture something honest about the way we talk now, the way we date now, the way we work now, and what it’s like to fail at those things. Because of his commercial and critical successes, Apatow has gotten full creative control over his projects. However, judging by his latest, This is 40, it seems autonomy is the beginning of a slippery slope to solipsism and detachment from reality.
Apatow wrote and directed This Is 40, the sort-of-sequel to Knocked Up. Leslie Mann (Apatow’s wife) and Paul Rudd reprise their roles as married couple Pete and Debbie. Apatow and Mann’s real-life children play the daughters. The film covers a week in the life of this family — a week where Pete and Debbie both turn 40. In lieu of a plot or a narrative arc, we get only snatches of their (privileged) life. The unfortunate result is that not much ever happens. We see disconnected scenes of parenting, we see Pete and Debbie fight, we see them go to work, we see them interact with their own parents. Problems that were raised in a previous scene are promptly forgotten in the next. An example of a “problem” in This Is 40, by the way, is that their daughter watches too many episodes of Lost on her iPad. That’s it, that’s really a big problem in this movie.
There are moments of brilliance — Paul Rudd inspecting a potential hemorrhoid with a hand mirror isn’t something you will forget easily. Graham Parker wears a hat with the Oreo logo un-ironically because “aren’t cookies the best?” And not getting married will forever be referred to as “Clooney-ing it.” The supporting cast is also amazing: Melissa McCarthy, Jason Segel, John Lithgow, Lena Dunham, Chris O’Dowd. Generally, though, you can’t shake the slightly big-brother feeling that you are watching Judd Apatow’s actual life and he’s doing a lot better than you ever will.
The film hits theaters Friday, December 21.