Advertised as a “sort-of sequel” to Knocked Up, Judd Apatow’s This Is 40 focuses not on the reluctant parents played by Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen—neither of whom is so much as mentioned in passing—but on the previous film’s other couple, Debbie (Leslie Mann) and Pete (Paul Rudd), and their daughters Charlotte and Sadie (played by Apatow’s and Mann’s real-life children, Iris and Maude). Both parents are struggling with the transition to middle age, with Pete frequently retreating to the bathroom with his iPad and Debbie freaking out that they can apparently no longer have sex without the help of Viagra. And that’s about it in terms of a storyline—the film just keeps tossing in characters and incidents, loosely organized around the concept expressed in its title. It’s a state-of-this-union address.
Like all of Apatow’s films, This Is 40 alternates blissfully funny riffs with moments of genuine pathos, but it situates both within a morass of schizophrenic self-indulgence. There are subplots that go nowhere, most notably one involving the question of whether Debbie’s employee (Megan Fox) has stolen $12,000 from the clothing store Debbie owns. There are shouting matches featuring Paul’s amiable mooch of a dad (Albert Brooks) and Debbie’s withholding stranger of a dad (John Lithgow). Bridesmaids’ Melissa McCarthy turns up as the mother of one of Sadie’s classmates and engages in some foul-mouthed improv that seems to belong in another movie. (Stay for the closing credits, though, as her outtakes are the funniest thing in the film.)
Such deliberate messiness was forgivable when the pleasures outweighed the pointless digressions, but with Funny People and now 40, Apatow has lost sight of what’s worth sharing with an audience and what should remain in his big notebook of possible ideas. That’s a shame, because when Pete and Debbie truly confront the problems with their marriage and the degree to which they feel like business partners rather than passionate husband and wife, Apatow finds some kernels of painful truth ... which immediately get lost in yet another discussion of Lost, a TV show that’s been off the air for two years. A movie that sprawls is one thing. A movie that just sort of wanders all over the place is another.