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2012, Judd Apatow
The “sort-of sequel” to Judd Apatow’s hit comedy Knocked Up, I was hoping that This Is 40 would bring some flavor back into his output that has been diminishing over his last few efforts. While I wasn’t a fan of the central characters featured in Knocked Up, the one thing I did love about it were the characters of Pete and Debbie, portrayed by Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann. Apatow decided that he liked those two as well, enough to center a whole new picture around the two of them, although from watching This Is 40 there isn’t much to tell that these are the same people we met five years ago. They’re played by the same actors, with their kids once again being portrayed by Apatow and off-screen wife Mann’s real children Maude and Iris, and…that’s about where the connection ends. Sure, Pete still works for a music label (he’s since moved on from his prior employment and started his own company), but there’s a distinct lack of personality with these two here that makes it feel like there isn’t really any connection to the characters we had formerly grown to know over the course of Knocked Up.
Really, Apatow could have completely removed the “sort-of sequel” label and no one would have known the difference, but that probably wouldn’t have been as financially lucrative so naturally that wasn’t to be the case. Anyone hoping for a Seth Rogen or Katherine Heigl cameo will leave disappointed (the two Knocked Up leads aren’t even really mentioned, despite Heigl having portrayed Mann’s sister and ending the film with the birth of her child), as This Is 40 keeps its focus firmly planted on Pete and Debbie until its last act (more on that in a minute).
So far I’ve found that each of Apatow’s films has been worse than his one preceding it, and unfortunately my hopes that This Is 40 would break the pattern were not met and I think this is quite easily his worst to date. Along with furthering that theory, the film certainly isn’t going to help convince anyone who believes that Apatow can’t write women that they are in the wrong. There isn’t a single likable female character in the picture and the women here run the bill from drug-addicted thieves to actual prostitutes to (at best) shrill, unsympathetic borderline psychotics who are trying to get in the way of the boys having a good time.
Apatow made plenty of talk about how the film was influenced by his own home life with Mann and their children, and if that’s the case then I’m not sure who I feel worse for, him or them. If these characters are anything like Apatow’s real family than he’s got to be the most suicidal man on the planet, but I’m more inclined to believe that he’s just incapable of building any kind of an honest, believable human character if they happen to have a vagina. That’s not to say that the men are too much better, though. Paul Rudd brings his usual affable charm to the role, making Pete the kind of easy-going guy who always brings his witty sense of humor even when he’s destroying his entire family without mentioning a word of it to any of them, but in the later stages of the film even he turns into a giant prick that is impossible to root for.
This Is 40 is supposedly a look into an honest marriage, but I didn’t feel any of that come across on the screen with this dreadful, grating family who I had no desire to see make nice and be happy together. If anything, the film just provides more and more evidence that they shouldn’t be together. These feelings drove me to frustration for the first 90 minutes of Apatow’s bloated 130-minute running time, and then we get to the final act which drives an already dismal picture into a deep, dark grave. His films have often featured jarring tonal shifts in their final stages and this is no different, but the final act of This Is 40 doesn’t even feel like it exists in the same universe as the 90 minutes that come prior to it.
In this final act, we get an odd amount of focus on insignificant characters played by Megan Fox, Jason Segel and Chris O’Dowd (the cast is loaded with familiar Apatow figures relegated to annoying bit parts), but the Pete and Debbie narrative veers wildly off course into a chaotic whirlwind of illogical behavior and lazily rushed resolutions. You get to the ending and it feels like Apatow finally realized he was running the picture way too long, didn’t feel like going back and editing anything out to make it pace more smoothly and instead forced in a tacky happy ending that doesn’t feel remotely like the organic progression of what we’ve seen come before it. This Is 40 feels like every criticism that has been leveled against Apatow being put on full display and magnified greater than it ever has been before, and I’m in utter fear of what might happen with his next film if he continues to get worse with each one.
2012, Jordan Roberts
This is another one of those little micro-budget comedies that you’ll probably only end up seeing if you really like one or two of the cast members and then you’ll quickly forget about when it’s over. The ensemble is great on paper, with reliable names like Charlie Hunnam, Chris O’Dowd, Lizzy Caplan and Ron Perlman filling out the main roster — but it’s just such a flat and forgettable journey. Hunnam is the only one who brings much of a spark to his time on screen, but he’s often dragged down by the weakness of the script and the poorly written characters around him. Not to say that his character is written any better, he’s just one big cliche of the constantly crapped on victim in his ’20s and the film doesn’t ever try to remove him from that area.
Written and directed by Jordan Roberts, 3, 2, 1… Frankie Go Boom is mostly just a disappointment, as I found myself sitting and thinking about what kind of great under-the-radar comedy could have been created with such quality actors at its disposable. Instead this fits more in tune with that last word, an utterly disposable journey with no genuine laughs and maybe a few mild chuckles, primarily thanks to the few scenes with Hunnam and Ron Perlman, going majorly against type here as an ex-con in drag. I like this cast a whole lot and kept wanting it to deliver something worthy of their talents, but there’s a reason this feels like it’s been sitting on the shelf for years (given how Hunnam looks, it seems like it was shot at least half a decade ago).
Film #303 of The 365 Film Challenge.