This is 40 was too regrettably symbolic a film for me to have missed for this long.
When it came out in December of 2012, it caught me in the last ten months of my thirties. So if I'd stuck to my plan to watch it in the theater, I wouldn't yet have been 40 when I saw it, but the number would have been looming enough for the movie's themes to really resonate with me.
But then I heard that it was essentially two hours of arguing between Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann. The memory of Funny People's extremely distended 146-minute running time, which took the story through all sorts of narrative branches and circumlocutions, was still fresh with me, so I felt particularly wary of a bloated Judd Apatow arguefest. I decided to give that theatrical viewing of This is 40 a pass. Besides, it was December and I had to focus on Oscar contenders before my list closed in January.
It would have been clever of me to watch it when I was actually 40, or even for something like my 40th birthday, if it hadn't figured to ruin that birthday for me. (The Internship, apparently, proved a much more worthy candidate.) But by October of 2013 it was sort of off my radar. Not that I'd forgotten about it, but that it wasn't leaping to mind with any regularity, asserting its need to be seen.
Now I'm about five months into age 41, and I finally saw it on Tuesday, the result of picking it up at the library. My wife showed no flicker of interest when seeing it in the stack of new rentals, so I ended up watching it by myself.
Hey, I liked it.
It's not Apatow's best -- he'll probably never top The 40-Year-Old Virgin -- but it kicks Funny People's ass, I'll tell you that.
First, let's address that "two hours of arguing" charge. Not true, really. Rudd's and Mann's characters have fights, to be sure, but they have an almost equal number of delightful exchanges, in which we're privy to a private lingo that demonstrates how much compatibility they've built up over 15 years of marriage. In fact, anyone who would claim that the amount of fighting they do is excessive a) hasn't been married, or b) is projecting something of their own scenario onto that relationship. Mann and Rudd fight about things that are reasonable to fight about, but also make genuine attempts to hear and love each other. I was concerned that this would be a tone-deaf succession of shouting matches that were supposed to play as funny, but that would reveal the true ugliness of anyone who thought they were funny. That's not what we're getting here at all.
And their interactions did play as funny. The hardest I laughed was when Mann is giving Rudd shit (pun intended) for having spent the past 30 minutes in the bathroom. As an indication of their comfort level, Rudd is actually trying to pretend that he's just engaged in a really long bowel movement, when in reality, he's playing Scrabble on his iPad. I'd be the other way around -- I'd rather my wife think I had stolen away to play internet Scrabble than that I was taking a shit for 30 minutes. But the laugh line is this: "Who takes a shit for 30 minutes?" Mann asks. Without missing a beat, Rudd answers "John Goodman."
All I had to do was think back to that line later in the movie if I wanted to bust out laughing again.
The leads get great support from the likes of Chris O'Dowd as Rudd's colleague at his record label (all of O'Dowd's lines are good) and Albert Brooks as Rudd's father (I'll take this version of Brooks over the one we get in Drive any day). Lending decidedly unexpected support is Megan Fox, who is actually funny in this movie, possibly for the first time ever. (This is 40 did not improve my opinion of another of its co-stars, Charlyne Yi, who is reprising her role from Knocked Up. I still haven't gotten over the terribleness of Paper Heart, I guess.)
Some of the conflicts in This is 40 get wrapped up too easily, or don't get wrapped up at all. But given that this is the reverse problem of what I thought it would have -- I was preparing for 12 rounds of truly reprehensible behavior -- I'll gladly accept that. Ultimately, Apatow, Rudd and Mann -- presumably the film's most important three collaborators -- have a good sense of the wrinkles in a real relationship, and how those might play out in ways that are challenging without actually bumming us out. It's a tone that works.
And I'd like to pause for a moment to make special recognition of the treasure we have in Mann. She has never attained the stardom of some of her peers or become a household name, but she's got absolutely dynamite comic timing and is never anything less than totally believable in her dramatic scenes. The movie on which she met her husband, Judd Apatow, is one of my favorites of all time -- that being The Cable Guy. And while that's more of a straight role, she showed her fitness for especially physical comedy the next year with the surprisingly delightful George of the Jungle, and has been routinely pleasing us ever since. She's been dynamite with Apatow (Virgin, Knocked Up) and without (The Bling Ring). I'm always happy when Leslie Mann pops up in a movie, and I think I might have to see last year's certainly-terrible The Other Woman, just because she was in it.
Besides, she was born only a year-and-a-half before I was, and we fortysomethings have to stick together.
Funnily enough, I am publishing this on Mann's 43rd birthday -- her 43rd birthday in Australia, anyway. Happy birthday, Leslie. If this is fortysomething, you make it look good.