Pete and Debbie – supporting characters in Judd Apatow’s terrific Knocked Up – get their own movie and it’s something of a mixed blessing.
Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) are well off, if not affluent, with a nice house in the ‘burbs and two daughters – Sadie (Maude Apatow) and Charlotte (Iris Apatow) – who may be the slightest bit spoiled. Pete owns and runs a boutique record label that specializes in retro; Debbie runs a financially troubled clothing boutique that they own.
Between their financial troubles, rambunctious kids and parental problems (Debbie has just reunited with the father who abandoned her and her mother; Pete’s father continually mooches to support his second wife and their tow-headed triplets), their lives have not turned out as they had hoped. Everything comes to a head as Pete and Debbie reach their fortieth birthdays.
There’s drama in Pete’s struggles to save his label with the misguided release of a reunion album by Graham Parker and the Rumour, a band that were almost always great, but never a best seller – as even Parker admits. There’s more drama in the situation at the clothing store, where there are only two employees – Desi (Megan Fox) and Jodie (Charlene Yi).
Comedy comes largely in the form of Pete’s well-meaning best friend, Barry (Robert Smigel) and their conversations (and Barry’s efforts at advice); Debbie’s friends, but especially Barb (Annie Mumolo), and Sadie’s fixation on Lost – as well as a hysterical Melissa McCarthy, who rains down vitriol as the mother of a boy who may (or may not) have been cyberbullying Sadie.
Pete and Debbie’s problems – despite their obvious love for each other – stem more from insecurity than anything else and a good number of laughs come from their attempts to work things out between them. It doesn’t help that Pete tries to protect Debbie from the stress of his failing label, or that Debbie has a shorter fuse than he does. Their weekend getaway only seems to exacerbate things because it enables them to make promises they couldn’t possibly be expected to keep (but it does have a lot of sweetness and some big laughs).
Jason Segal has a good bit as Debbie’s personal trainer and friend, while Fox is actually very good as Desi. Yi plays both to and against type as the seemingly sweet Jodie and Albert Brooks make Pete’s dad, Larry’s insightfulness as completely believable as his guilt tripping mooching.
Iris Apatow only has to be alternately insufferably cute and righteously angry as Charlotte, but she nails both with an underlying sweetness that makes the character genuinely lovable. Maude Apatow, on the other hand, has to be all over the map – as only a hormonal early teen can be – and shows both some range and some solid comedic chops as Sadie.
Despite terrific performances by Rudd and Mann, the biggest problem with This Is 40 is that it’s about forty minutes too long. Despite hitting some big laughs and some moments of genuine poignancy, Apatow sometimes takes an idea and improvises it into the ground when he should have just let it escape into the wild.
Editing can be the difference between an A+ and a B+. This Is 40 needed another round of editing.
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