Judd Apatow's latest undertaking, This Is 40, revisits Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann), the churlish yet lovable couple first introduced in Knocked Up. Fording the frigid waters of their dysfunctional marriage, the story picks up a few years after that rom-com, and though its tagline suggests otherwise, this movie is not even "sort of" a sequel. Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl are nowhere to be found, nor is there any mention of their characters. The hilariously fiery dynamic between Pete and Debbie, however, is here in full force.
Pete and Debbie are turning 40 within a week of each other, and both make the middle-aged years look absolutely terrifying. Their lives are a depressing stew of resentment, regret and unfulfilling sex, all conveyed through sarcastic hyperbole. Pete, on the verge of losing his record label, spends his days cowering on the toilet playing Words With Friends on his iPad, until Debbie inevitably sniffs him out and swoops in to blast him with a round of emotional blackmail. When he gets brave, he smirks at Debbie as he fills their king-size bed with farts, in turn filling Debbie with rage. They spend much of their time fantasizing about one another's demise.
This Is 40 gropes for a big-picture exploration of family life in the proverbial hump years between youth and old age, striking chords that are likely to resound with those who have actually been there. I've heard tell of that ominous boom of sudden and creeping senility that sounds on the dawn of one's 40th year; never have I been more afraid than now.
Though Apatow's souped-up potty humor and fantastic cast keep the laughs coming from start to finish, This Is 40 at times frustrates in its insistence to be, well, just a movie about turning 40. The plot does not extend any further than that. Granted, heaps of dastardly and significant shifts seem to happen on the threshold of this dreaded age bracket, but their essence could easily have been captured in less than two hours. But it's still worth a watch: Apatow brings us close enough to Pete and Debbie that anyone can see a piece of themselves in their choppy love life. It may not work out so happily for everyone, but damn if This Is 40 doesn't make it seem possible.
Critic's Grade: B
SEE IT: This Is 40 is rated R. It opens Friday at Cedar Hills, Eastport, Clackamas, Lloyd Center, Oak Grove, Bridgeport, Division, Evergreen Parkway, Hilltop, Pioneer Place, Tigard.