Life knocks you down in this sort-of sequel to Knocked Up
290"We're in one of those phases where everything the other person says just annoys the s**t out of each other. All the time. It's a blast."
The much-anticipated sort-of sequel to Judd Apatow's superb Knocked Up is an excellent little spin-off follow-up, putting Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann centre-stage and blending insightful commentary on the transition to middle-age life, with razor-sharp wit, in the style that Apatow has become renowned for. It may not quite become the classic comedy masterpiece that Knocked Up was, but it's a strong fourth entry from the man who debuted with the fantastic 40 Year Old Virgin, struck gold with his sophomore Knocked Up, then confused audiences with his mixed bag is-it-a-drama-or-is-it-a-comedy Funny People; and it comes highly recommended, whether or not you're approaching 40.
Married couple Pete and Debbie are on both on the eve of their fortieth birthdays and they're pretty far from living the dream. Pete's indie record label is struggling. Debbie's fashion boutique is losing money because one of the staff members is stealing thousands of dollars. Their teenage daughter is struggling with puberty, hormones and a desperate desire for independence and privacy; whilst their younger daughter is wondering why her big sister has become so grumpy all of a sudden. To make matters worse, Pete's dad is a career leech, sponging thousands off his son; and Debbie's father doesn't even remember the names of his grandchildren now that he's got a new, younger family to take care of. And Debbie wants everybody to believe that she's just turning 38. This is certainly going to make for an interesting joint birthday party.
Although fans of Knocked Up may be wondering why we didn’t get a direct sequel, focussing on Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl’s characters of Ben and Alison, the truth is that Heigl burnt her bridges with Apatow with an unnecessarily critical comment about that movie – one which she never apologised to him for (her career hasn’t exactly taken off since). But it doesn’t matter, we didn’t actually need a direct sequel to Knocked Up. Their story had already been told: their mismatched pair, thrust together through an unplanned pregnancy, had been through the ringer enough, and any sequel focussing solely on them would have probably been entirely unnecessary. Worse still, it would have likely required some kind of contrived element to facilitate the break-up/reconciliation format of most standard rom-coms. No, Knocked Up told us the story of Ben and Alison, and gave us suitable closure in that regard. But it barely touched upon their friends, Alison’s sister Debbie and Debbie’s husband Pete, and the lives they were living – characters who arguably provided some of be best scenes in Knocked Up; characters who we could actually do with knowing more about.
“I mean that was idiotic. You have to understand. That’s like the one thing you don’t do is tell her you used Viagra. I think that’s even on the warning label.”
Spinning the story off in a logical progression, writer/director/producer Judd Apatow sets his tale some 5 years after the events of Knocked Up and immediately throws us into an argument between the two new focal characters, giving you a taste as to just what this story is going to be about. These two have been together for years, but they’re both at turning points in their lives: Debbie is struggling to come to terms with her age; Pete is struggling to be both true to himself and be everything that he thinks that his wife expects of him. Debbie’s a snappy, argumentative and antagonistic semi-neurotic who has largely become that way purely because she wants the best for her family – she wants a secure home; the wants her children to grow up ‘right’ and she wants her husband to be responsible.
Pete, on the other hand, just wants her to chill out. Sure, he knows that he has to go easy on the cupcakes – not for weight reasons but for health reasons – but it’s difficult to handle a person who either shouts at him to never eat them or simply ‘eat whatever you like’, with no balance in between. He also knows that, if this is the way she reacts to cupcakes, he can’t possibly talk to her about his financial difficulties – he’s in default on his mortgage; his record label is failing; and he’s given his dad over 80 grand – lest she explode. So what does he do? Buries his head in the sand and hope that something miraculous happens in the meantime.
All the while their elder, now teenage daughter has hit puberty and is going mad. When she has to leave the house in the morning she can be heard screaming from her room “I don’t know what to wear! I don’t have anything to wear!”. As parents, Pete and Debbie have no idea what to do other than deal with it. It’s a battle they know that they’re losing, but they also know that they can’t act like they’re losing it. It’s also the one time when they forget about arguing with each other and collaborate on a joint target.
Indeed the only spark of true bliss that they appear to have is when they take a brief, inadvertently drug-fuelled, trip away for the weekend... without the kids. It’s a short-lived respite from the chaos, and, as soon as you’re back in the thick of it, it is hard to remember the good times, even if they happened just a few hours previously. Real life kicks back in.
Above all, though, Pete and Debbie love one another. Their actions are almost entirely for the benefit of the family, nuclear or greater, and their mistakes are perfectly natural – this is, I think, the essence to all of Apatow’s scripts: he manages to craft poignantly, touchingly funny situations out of exaggerated real life. Sure, there’s a necessary extreme in order to make them funny – the aforementioned exaggeration – but the majority of scenes in this film will resonate with the many individuals who have either been in such situations, or can imagine themselves in such situations.
“All you do is fight. Or you don’t fight, which is even worse because it looks like you hate each other for weeks.”
Yes, we may not have all dreamt about the different ways we would like to get rid of our partners (although I’m sure many of us have), but This Is 40 makes fun of such a scenario because of that semi-truth: the guys discussing how they would like their other half to peacefully drift off into a coma then die, leaving them a widower, which is infinitely sexier to the opposite sex than someone who is divorced; the girls going for the idea of slowly poisoning their husbands to death so that they become increasingly weak and feeble, allowing their wives to enjoy taking care of them, knowing that they’re going to die any day. It’s hilarious.
Of course these are flawed individuals portrayed to the funny extreme. Debbie is a neurotic-borderline-psychopath. Pete is a lazy, procrastinating, stubborn ostrich. They’re not supposed to be real, yet they show us elements of ourselves, and take them to their logical, funny, extreme conclusion. I dare anybody of any age in any relationship to deny that at least one element in this entire film struck a personal chord with them. A little “yeah, I know what that’s like.” A knowing smile because you’ve been in that situation before; because your kids are the prime reason behind frustrating marital coitus interruptus; because imbalance and outright hypocrisy is practically a pre-mandate in most normal relationships; because sometimes men do use the bathroom as a safe haven to escape from the rest of the world and sometimes women do need to go out with their girlfriends and dance and flirt with complete strangers just to know that they’ve still got it. This is normal; this is healthy. This is the future for some of us; the past for others. This is 40.
Performance-wise, the two leads absolutely nail their respective characters, perfectly and naturally expanding on the supporting roles in Knocked Up which they originated from. It’s almost hard to believe that over 5 years have passed since that movie, because Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd have barely changed in all that time, and seem so effortlessly to slip back into the same roles.
“You think that haircut’s cool? It’s not. It looks like you put your Justin Bieber wig on backwards. Next time you think about writing something nasty on my daughter’s Facebook page, just remember me. I will come down here, and I will f**k you up.”
Mann, of course, is Judd Apatow’s real-life wife, and there’s no doubt that the script has been informed by their own experiences, perhaps given a slightly more balanced structure when compared to Knocked Up (which suffered from criticism over its sexist portrayals – personally I think it portrayed both sexes with their equal share of flaws: that was the whole point). Her character of Debbie was already dealing with her age in Knocked Up – remember the excellent scene where she and a pregnant Katherine Heigl were trying to gain entry to a club? – and so it seems perfectly natural to see her lying about her 40th this time around.
She does going off the rails very well indeed, but balances it with a genuine sense of concern; of wanting to have a stable family life and a loving, passionate relationship with her husband, all the while juggling the needs of her children.
Paul Rudd’s Pete is the perfectly foil for her neuroses, an overly laid-back husband and father, who still gets caught playing scrabble on his smartpad whilst on the loo; who isn’t really taken seriously by his employees at work; and who still fights the losing battle to persuade the three women in his life that his ‘old’ music is better than Lady Gaga! Similarly his character has evolved directly from the preceding movie, having made the decision to follow his dream of setting up an indie record label, here we see him struggling to live that dream. And, when pressured to deal with the problems, generally running away from them.
Again, just like with Debbie’s angst, you can see how frustrating Pete’s behaviour could be but, again, you can just about see the lovable side behind it all. Rudd has struggled to become a leading comedian, no matter how many years he’s been in the game, and this kind of pairing is far better suited to him than the likes of Role Models and I Love You, Man, both of which were enjoyable but a far cry from the sharp, relatable humour on offer here.
“Are you kidding me? You can’t watch over a hundred episodes of a show in five weeks. It’ll melt your brain.”
“It’s not melting my brain, it’s blowing my mind. My relationship with Lost is not your business. It’s extremely personal.”
Supporting them there are a number of players from Knocked Up who return – not least Pete and Debbie’s children, again played by Apatow’s (and thus Mann’s) real-life daughters, Iris and Maude Apatow. Perhaps it is because they are very comfortable working with their parents, or perhaps they are just naturally very talented, but the two of them not only offer up some of the funniest scenes (the dead cow attack is hilarious) but also some of the most poignant and teenager-relevant (the obsession with a TV show). We also get Charlyne Yi and Jason Segal – friends of Ben in Knocked Up – returning to their respective roles: the former now works at Debbie’s boutique, whilst the latter is Debbie’s personal trainer, and still fancies the hell out of her.
Then there’s a gruff, uptight and perfectly-cast John Lithgow as Debbie’s detached father; a wonderfully selfish Albert Brooks (Drive) as Pete’s sponging father; and the tolerable-in-small-doses Chris O’Dowd (c.f. Bridesmaids) as one of Pete’s employees.
The standout cameo role awards go to Bridesmaids’ Melissa McCarthy – wait for the credits to see the funniest scene in the entire movie! – and Megan Fox (Transformers 1 and 2, Passion Play, Jennifer’s Body), who is actually quite good as Debbie’s slightly slutty employee, who everybody suspects is a thieving drug addict. She too pulls in a few laughs, which was a bit of a shock to the system.
“Do you ever wish we had a bigger family?”
“No, never for a second. Never. I love what we have. One? A breeze. Two? Brutal. Three? Put a bullet in my head.”
Although not quite as pointed and serious as Funny People, and not quite as quoteworthily hilarious as Knocked Up, I think Apatow perfectly balances poignant real-life commentary with trademark witticisms this time around, securing a strong fourth entry in his writer/director career. There aren’t that many films out there which adopt such a perceptively funny stance, and manage to be both relatable and laugh-out-loud funny, and This is 40 is one of them.
Extended Cut vs Theatrical Version
One big complaint that has been noted numerous times, both by critics and audiences, is the sheer length of the film. Now, personally, I look at it as something of an epic atypical romantic dramedy, but for those who already found it quite an arduous task, the Extended Cut isn’t exactly going to change it. Although only running about three minutes longer than the Theatrical Version, the gags in the original cut were already taken to their limit, and here many of them are embellished or expanded in ways that are arguably unnecessary.
If you loved the film, however, and can’t get enough of it, then the Extended Cut certainly has its benefits. For starters, it changes and extends the opening Viagra gag to a slightly different conclusion (one which is arguably better but which slightly contradicts a later dig). The rest of the added/alternative material is harder to distinguish; there’s a funny added line in the bathroom scene about getting cable hooked up, unnecessarily longer versions of the band playing (and the discussions afterwards), and an amusing embellishment of the Simon and Garfunkel gag. Indeed, whilst you may have thought, from the opening changes, that this version would be more obviously different, it’s actually more subtle than that, and only really effective in a couple of moments.
For a first viewing, go with the Theatrical Version, but for those familiar with it, checking out the Extended Cut won’t do any harm.
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