This is 40 shoots for the current American zeitgeist of ObamAmerica, which apparently can be seen in the struggles of the white entrepreneurial 1% in California. Whether it hits it or not depends upon your ability to enjoy watching selfish, whiny narcissists in a two hour long Apple commercial screech at themselves. The fourth feature written and directed by Judd Apatow combines his familiar shtick – middlebrow world view filtered with just the right amount of LCD-aimed hostile humor smuggling in hyper-conservative values chock full of condescension, racism, sexism, and consumerism.
The plot is essentially two highly self-involved people got pregnant, got married, had another kid and now they’ve come to realize they are not happy. It is unAmerican to not be happy, it’s written right into one of the Declaration of Independence – “…the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.” Debbie (Leslie Mann) and Pete (Paul Rudd) are the hip, cool couple who are both turning 40 the same week – let the midlife crisis commence! Debbie, as the female, is pathologically obsessed with staying young and never growing old, I mean, right ladies? No lady wants to look and feel old so let’s take few candles off the cake and fudge the numbers! Paul just wants to eat cupcakes without getting yelled at by Debbie, sheesh, just let him have his cake and eat it too Debbie! Neither of them are happy. Since this is an Apatow film that can only mean one thing – spend a few nights in a hotel and take drugs for this first time in a long time. Let the wackiness ensue. But that’s not enough this time as Debbie and Leslie come home feeling empty and still unhappy.
Neither of them have any real ideas how to live happier, fuller lives. The film talks about therapy sessions for the couple yet we never see any sessions which are usually a standard comedy trope in relationship films. Debbie clearly has a lot of issues she needs to talk about on an emotional and personal level which one would share with a close friend or family member. She has neither which is odd since both of the characters of this movie came from Knocked Up (as this movie is billed as a its quasi-sequel) where Leslie’s sister played by Katherine Heigl has a baby with a chubby ugly dude from a one-night stand. Seemed a little strange to not even throw in one line of dialogue in the movie acknowledging her, but hey, it only had a 12 hour running time. Maybe that is a bit of misdirection since there might be a This is 30 spin-off to see how much hate and bile that couple has managed to generate since their baby-forced marriage? Fingers crossed.
Paul, on the other hand, has a close male friend whom he confides in – by asking if he has dreamed of his wife dying? All of the time. The level of hostility in the humor is frightening yet very revealing of the film’s lack of any moral center. When you build inauthentic lives around the things you LIKE and the choices you make in a world being sold to you by Corporate America you must realize you WILL NEVER BE COMPLETELY HAPPY AND SATISFIED! The point of the capitalist, consumerist lifestyle is one of unending buying and searching for the next new thing. How do you keep people buying stuff all of the time? Create anxiety in them through advertising and marketing, keeping up with the Joneses. Now there are no neighbors named the Jones we are keeping up with because who talks to their neighbors anymore? Sheesh, this isn’t the Fifties anymore man, it’s bigger than just impressing a few people on your block, what will all of your “friends” on Facebook think if you don’t have the newest gadgets from Steve Jobs? Huh? This is America! We are FREE – to think and do exactly what they tell us to do. We are free to buy a lot of stuff that alienates us and does not make us happy because it makes us all rugged individuals. We are NOT Commies! Seems like the characters could muster up a little self-awareness to figure that might be the source of their pain although just blaming their own crappy parents is easier.
What’s humorous about This is 40 pandering to All Things Apple and its hyper-aware pop cultural name dropping (look, that’s 2012’s IT girl Lena Dunham! Wow. Not surprising as Apatow produced her hit show Girls) is how extremely dated this film will be in ten, fifteen years. This film is like that Train song from the 90’s that drops soy lattes and Tae-Bo into it’s lyrics. Think of how people look at bag cell phones in movies from the early 90’s – they laugh at how ridiculous they are since the future is so modern. People don’t think that the current iPhone 9 in their hands will ever look old and dated since it’s so hip and fashionable in 2012. Guess what? The whole point of fashion is constantly moving on to the next cool idea, you gotta stay up with the times, buy the newest hot item or else you get left behind. No one wants to be the loser with a flip phone, that means you’re poor and no wants to be poor, well, there’s 47% of the country who really wants it but forget them! This film is about the pathos of the 1%, not those rich jerks like Mitt Romney, this 1% built their own fortunes. They are hurting and we need to feel their pain.
Or at least laugh at all of the same things that most Americans find scary and weird – foreign doctors with a lisps, kids who look like Tom Petty and their chubby mothers, single-guys who are not married, attractive young women who also happen to be prostitutes, Baby Boomers who are having second families, working hard to solve your problems – all of these of just a few of the things that draw the hostile humorous wrath of our two anti-heroes in This is 40. Most of the funny jokes seem to deal with body parts, fluids and medical checkups – no one one really needs to get to Freudian on Mr. Apatow obsession with poopie and dick jokes – they play to the masses.
In the end one must conclude the film hits the zeitgeist in that it uses a white family in the 1% who are spending beyond their means with absolutely no qualms about their hyper-consumerist lifestyle. Leslie makes a few attempts by limiting their electronic device time and eating healthier. The film quickly denigrates that as being a dead-end. The family, like America, is utterly bankrupt when it comes to self-examination of themselves to find the real roots of the problems (too many electronic devices! What can we do? We are all iSlaves! OH NO!). The fact that this couple, like America, is facing a deep existential and financial crisis with the only tools in the bag being to point fingers (Our parents messed us up!) and delay any meaningful action (We don’t need to change, that’s stupid) which might lead to fuller, more loving and caring lives. Life is a choice between fear and love, the great Bill Hicks said that – the Apatow family as depicted in This is 40 like America circa 2012 (heading for the fiscal cliff!) chooses fear of losing all of the stuff they’ve acquired. Let’s force each other to hold hands as we all go off the side together as Paul and Debbie decide in the end that change is dumb. You hear that Obama?
Change is dumb.
* – At least the film makes an overly self-conscious attempt to resurrect the career of a Graham Parker, a 70’s musicians with a few hit records under his belt.