Dave White
This Is 40 Review

Dave's Rating:

2.0

This is annoying.

It's the cupcakes. It's the insistent, love-hate screamfest over cupcakes. That's where this movie lost me. Or, rather, it's the first instance of this movie losing me, losing itself, losing at making sense to sensible people, losing at being about the real-life problems Judd Apatow's characters usually face with such excellently R-rated mouthiness and goofball solutions. It's the cupcakes.

Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann, off-screen spouse to Apatow, playing a horrifying, other-dimensional Xerox of a fax of a photograph of a woman who could also be the filmmaker's wife), Knocked Up's harried marrieds, are back. They're still pretty funny when they want to be, but boy do they have problems.

Their daughters (Maude and Iris Apatow) never stop fighting. Their sex life is compromised when Debbie learns Pete takes Viagra and she, in turn, interprets it as a personal betrayal. Their financial life is in peril thanks to Pete's mooching, retired father (Albert Brooks) and the couple's own bad business moves (the record label Pete founded is overextended, Debbie's boutique is losing money thanks to embezzling employees). Meanwhile, their life-partnership suffers as their communication skills drown in self-delusion and lack of awareness of how blisteringly irritating they've become. They genuinely think that everyone else is the problem and the movie itself isn't always -- okay, ever -- willing to rub their nose in their wrongheaded waste of resources and time, their intrinsic selfishness or idiotic ideas about what they're entitled to in life. To cope, she secret-smokes and he binges on cupcakes before throwing out the rest, over and over. This squabbling, yelling and pouting goes on for about two hours and ten minutes. Think you can deal with them for that long? More importantly, think you can feel an ounce of pity for their comic pain?

Rich people are allowed to have problems, even money problems. They're people, after all. But when wealth is the status quo that's never questioned, when fictional comfort and privilege hang so thickly in the air that the storyteller can't or won't recognize it and call it out, it makes for a weird, alien-like viewing experience that raises more questions than it can ever hope to answer, even during a sprawling 130 minutes.

Questions like: How does a relatively young family of four pony up the cash to buy an extra-large West Los Angeles home worth several million dollars in the first place? Why do so many personal conflicts here revolve around how put-upon these people are? What sort of 40-year-old man believes, openly and loudly, that his taste in music has any bearing on the quality of his character? When facing an extreme economic downturn, why does anyone order a giant guitar-shaped birthday cake for your own party? Or employ caterers? And personal trainers? And indulge in spa weekends? Why not sell that BMW you sit in, weeping over your plight? Why are there so many Christmas presents under that tree in the background? Why so many expensive Sprinkles cupcakes, just sitting in the kitchen, waiting to be thrown out? Why not smarten up, even a little?

Because the movie won't allow it. And it's not because Apatow is some kind of dummy. He's counting on this bad behavior for laughs above all else. One of the best exchanges between Rudd and Mann involves their own version of real-talk as they tell each other feel-good lies like, "We're a magnet for negativity!" "Why do people keep attacking us?" "We're doing our best!" and "We need to give each other a break!" But in the journey toward resolution Apatow forgets to hold their feet to the fire, choosing instead to indulge their obnoxiousness without comment before letting them off the hook.

Worst case scenario? He really doesn't believe they need any sort of wake-up. I'm trying not to think about that possibility.

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