Friday, 15 February 2013

This Is 40 (15)

I was always brought up on the edict that if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.

So, then, This Is 40.


Nice soundtrack.

*sound of an angry The Man*

OK, fine. I'll write more. See if I care...

John Patterson, writing on The Guardian website recently, put forward the theory that This Is 40 is the victim of a backlash against writer/director/producer/caster-of-own-family Judd Apatow.

According to Mr P, the world is just jealous of Apatow's success. It's the reason we didn't all rush out to see Funny Man. It's not.  No one went to see Funny Man because - and brace yourself for the shock news here - it was shit.

"Easily the bravest and rawest movie that Adam Sandler has ever appeared in" he wrote, presumably with a straight face.

"Funny People repeatedly took the audience beyond comedy, almost to the edge of horror and tragedy" he added.

Again, I think he was being serious.

He also suggests that it's not Apatow's fault if his propensity for helping his mates' movies get made results in the odd stinker. He may have a point, but when he classes The Five-Year Engagement as "rotten" and mentions it in the same breath as Your Highness (which needed to improve a lot to elevate it to the level of a stinker) you know he's talking out of his arse and just trying to be intellectual and contrary for the sake of it.

He also says This Is 40 was the best comedy of 2012. 2012. A year that gave us Moonrise Kingdom. And Young Adult. Hell, God Bless America and Ted are funnier. 

You see, the reason This Is 40 has been panned Stateside is - and again, you'll be shocked by this - because it is genuinely crap.

And I'm not saying that because I have an 'agenda' against Apatow (I actually liked Knocked-Up, and Engagement, and his continued use of Jason Segal led eventually to The Muppets), it's because I sat through just over two hours of a COMEDY film (their words, not mine) and did not LAUGH (a basic requirement of a comedy-watching audience) once. Not once.

Not even during the 'eating a hash cookie in a hotel' scene.

You see, for a film - any film - to work, you have to actually care about the characters. Not like, necessarily - that would be nice, but if done right it's not essential - but care about is a must.

And it's not just hard to like Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann's characters, it's bloody impossible. Maybe it's because I am going to be 40 this year, maybe that's the problem. I couldn't relate to anything people my age were doing on screen. I just spent a lot of time thinking "SHUT UP". 

Granted I'm not approaching this milestone with any sense of optimism - quite the opposite. All celebrations have been cancelled, and a quiet holiday in the middle of nowhere has been arranged, thanking you. But even I couldn't believe anyone could be so hung up on their age that they'd lie to their own gynaecologist. Frankly Mann's Debbie possesses a shallowness that would shame the cast of Sex In The City.

And she runs a shop. A shop that has just lost $12,000 in a month. Something that causes her such concern she checks the store's security footage. And watches shopworker Megan Fox (her prime suspect) getting shagged on the counter. 

Her reaction?

To discuss the hows and whys of the unfolding sex scenes before lambasting Rudd's Pete for his excessive display of flatulence. But before this gives the appearance of a misogynistic tirade, let's look at Pete a bit more. He runs his own record label. He only signs bands he likes. They don't sell. He's missed mortgage payments. He's lent his dad $80,000 without Debbie's knowledge. He'd rather spend time on the toilet playing Jewels and Scrabble than interact with the family he's doing his best to make homeless. 

He's frankly so weak it's a miracle he doesn't collapse when his clothes come off.

And the children - played by Apatow's own off-spring - are odious. And they can't act. Great, you're in charge and you can cast your own kiddies in your movie. Hurrah! Next time, make sure it's not to the detriment of the film.

Not that better performances would have saved this film - the problems lie in the script.  The dialogue was written by a man who, apparently, has never observed grown-ups talking (which must be a bit of an insult to wife Leslie...), the situations are barely linked - giving the impression of a bunch of sketches draped over a weak story arc, and the peripheral characters are so insignificant as to barely warrant the screen time - it's frankly a mess.

And then there's Ms Fox. Cast, according to Apatow, for her previously untapped comic ability, she seems to be in the film for no other purpose than to satisfy the director's dream of seeing Fox and Mann in a threesome.

Cast her for her comedic talents? Give her some funny lines and let her keep her clothes on, rather than having her strip to her undies while your wife fondles her boobs.

At a point - again - when she's supposed to be concerned about the aforementioned missing $12k. Frankly if she's that easily distracted she deserves to lose the shop and house.

And did Fox really need to be the only grown-up woman at the birthday party who's knocking about in a bikini? Of course she did. It was essential for the comedy...

But do you know what? I could have forgiven the film all of this if it had just been funny. Hell, I'd have liked it more if he'd played it straight and gone darker, because in here is the makings of a half-decent drama. Instead, it feels like he was aiming somewhere between the heartbreaking tragedy of Blue Valentine and heartwarming whimsy of Take This Waltz and missed.

By miles.

There are some small crumbs of comfort in here. Albert Brooks (as Rudd's mooch of a father) and John Lithgow (as Mann's long-absent father) may be phoning in their performances, but they shine. 

And the music's good. After that you've got nothing. There's a moment at the end where Rudd's character manages not to be killed in a bike accident. And you find yourself being disappointed.

Maybe this mythical Apatow backlash wouldn't be happening if he actually managed to make decent films.

Right, the boss is busy. I'm making a run for it...


  1. It's not going to make you very happy, but thanks to Apatow's writing, the movie is always entertaining and always thoughtful. Pretty damn funny, too. Good review Kahn.

  2. Doesn't make me unhappy that you liked the film - glad you did. I know I'm in the minority, but I really didn't like it. Maybe I should go and watch it again, maybe I missed something