Thursday, February 07, 2013

This is 40 -- this is my review

Maybe if everybody stops calling Judd Apatow a comic genius he can make some good movies again. I laughed a lot at THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN. I liked KNOCKED UP (despite its length and Katherine Heigl). And SUPER BAD (which he only produced) was a riot. Then Hollywood anointed Apatow as a master comedy filmmaker. Uh oh. Now he’s editing Vanity Fair comedy issues, moderating panels, the subject of retrospectives, going on talk shows, putting his name above the title – and every movie he’s made since has fizzled. He seems to have forgotten the first rule of comedy – don’t take yourself too seriously.

You stop thinking “what would audiences want to see?” and start thinking, “what would I want to see?” You assume that since you have your finger on the pulse, anything that interests you must surely fascinate everyone else.

And now we have THIS IS 40, clocking in at a brisk 2 hours and 13 minutes. Here’s the premise: a spoiled upper-middle class couple of Brentwood assholes who live in a huge house in the exclusive section of Los Angeles Judd Apatow lives in are bothered that they’re entering middle age.  Not a big problem plus you hate them.  To combat this crippling crisis they whine and try stuff.

Clearly, turning 40 was a major issue for… Judd Apatow. And if it weren’t obvious enough that this was all about Judd Apatow, he cast his own wife and children in the movie. His kids, to be fair, were terrific! But Leslie Mann? Let’s compare Leslie Mann for a moment to Julie Bowen of MODERN FAMILY. Similar role. Similar age. Similar hair. Julie plays real, natural, and the comedy – verbal or physical -- seems almost effortless. Leslie Mann, mugs and is working hard every minute. God bless her for trying but there are better, more skilled Julie Bowens or Sandra Bullocks or Nancy Travis' out there.

And does Paul Rudd now have to star in every romantic comedy? He’s becoming the Ryan Seacrest of the silver screen. I’m a big fan of Paul Rudd and I’m saying, “let’s give someone else a chance, shall we?”

Rule number two in comedy is don’t wear out your welcome. Keep it short. Film comedies work best at about 90 minutes. FUNNY PEOPLE was 2 hours and 26 minutes. Holy shit! That’s longer than CHINATOWN. 

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE was only 2 hours and 1 minute.

UNFORGIVEN was a mere 2 hours and 11 minutes.

The story meanders. Perhaps that's because the subject matter isn't particularly compelling.  Scene after scene is just cobbled together. Paul learns that he has big money problems and should sell his house. Four or five scenes later he’s taking Leslie to a swank resort hotel for a weekend celebration. Huh?

HURT LOCKER was only 2 hours and 11 minutes.

Still, all of this would be forgiven if the movie was funny and for the most part it’s not. Lots of obvious crass sex jokes and on-the-nose set pieces. Leslie is trying to give Paul a blowjob while the kids are outside banging on the door. Leslie and Paul keep yelling, “Stop that!” “We’ll be out in a minute!” and the kids keep banging until finally Leslie gives up and that’s that. Not what you’d call inspired lunacy. In the hotel sequence they get high on marijuana cookies (haven't we seen that scene in fifty other movies and sitcoms since 1966?) and are silly when the room service waiter arrives. Paul takes a banana off the tray and says “it looks like a dick!” then he takes a bite and says, “I’m eating a dick!” Wow. Now an argument can be made that the point was he was stoned and not as funny as he thought he was, but you could also achieve the same value and give him hilarious, outrageous, goofy, inappropriate things to say. (See the BARNEY MILLER version written by Tom Reeder.  You'll be on the floor.) I think the pre-genius Apatow would have. Judd Apatow can write a funny line as well as anybody in the business… IF he wants to. IF he’s willing to put in the effort. “I’m eating a dick” and many other lines in the film are just plain lazy. So is doing a sequence in a ritzy hotel when you've established financial problems.  Not worthy of a comedy master

THE KING’S SPEECH was only 1 hour and 51 minutes.

I know there are Judd Apatow haters. They resent everything he does. I’m not one of them.  I admire his achievements and think he's enormously talented.   And he has a golden opportunity. At least for now he can make any movie he wants.  So if I may offer some constructive advice:  Step back. Get out of your head. Instead of making a raunchy sex farce disguised as an important incisive look at modern mores (and don’t kid yourself – when you send out screeners and copies of the screenplay you’re trolling for Oscars), find a good comic premise, just have fun with it, don't try to top yourself, keep Leslie Mann at home, keep it at 90 minutes, and make an entertaining movie the whole family can enjoy that isn’t just your whole family. I will be the first in line.


MomQueenBee said...

It has been decades since I first saw that Barney Miller episode and just thinking the phrase "Be divine, Barney" still makes me laugh out loud.

bmfc1108 said...

Your comments are "spot on." "This is 40" was 40 minutes too long. Lesly Mann is an awful actress but he is too blind to see it. His kids may be nice but I don't want to see his home movies. As I watched the aforementioned "blowjob scene", I realized that he was filming his wife doing that and then wondered if that was a moment from their life and why it was relevant to the story and it took me out of the movie watching experience. I don't think Neil Simon would have written that scene.

Amanda St. Amand said...

I could not agree more. We walked out of "This is 40" with probably 15-20 minutes left because I finally couldn't take it. The leads were whiny, as you point out, and when he is secretly giving $80K to his father and they barely discuss it? REALLY? The whole thing was incredibly stupid.

Amanda St. Amand

Rich said...

I thought it was funny in parts but both my wife and I were scratching our heads (like the unwashed flyover country denizens we are, I guess) at the plot points you had mentioned.

He's crying about money at one point and then in the next scene they drop what had to be a couple thousand or more at a resort. They also had two luxury cars. It didn't make much sense. It also turned out the husband had given something like 40k to his father in the recent past. Nice problem to have I guess.

I also felt all the wife character did was bitch and moan. She was pretty unlikable.

I did think the kids did a good job. And I enjoyed the part where the Lithgow character basically says 'fuck off' after he gets shit on a little too much.

SamuraiFrog said...

I've read now that Judd Apatow wants to make a third movie about these characters, only focusing on the kids, instead. Has he not heard of Facebook? It's a much cheaper way to subject everyone to your family.

RJ Hope said...

I am a huge Judd Apatow fan, but in fairness, this is not a good movie.

I think your points on why it wasn't good hit the mark, and I really have nothing to add.

I know that all popular and talented filmmakers will tank a picture or two. The success of previous movies gives him the cache to make anything he wants with anyone he wants.

That being said, his next movie has to be far removed from him. Maybe no wife, no kids, and less with the adolescent crass jokes. Also, maybe produce less films to have more time to write and direct your own stuff.

You can expect a Apatow directed movie sometime in 2016.

ScottyB said...

Good point. It's like when a team wins a World Series, demands (and gets) a new stadium because of it, and immediately goes into the shitter the following several seasons.

Janice C said...

The scene where the wife confronts the girl (Charlyne Yi)about the missing money? That dreadful ad-libbing went on and on. For the love of God, edit something !

Mark said...

I've got whiplash from nodding my head at every single observation.

Please Judd, snap out of it!

chuckcd said...

"Paul learns that he has big money problems and should sell his house. Four or five scenes later he’s taking Leslie to a swank resort hotel for a weekend celebration. Huh?"
Probably how they got into financial trouble in the first place...

Beef Supreme said...

SamuraiFrog's comment was funnier than anything in "This is 40".

Matt said...

I commented on this a few weeks ago. The sweet spot for comedies like this is *around* 90 minutes:

Hall Pass - 1:45
Horrible Bosses - 98 minutes
Couples Retreat - 1:43
Due Date - 95 minutes
The Hangover - 100 minutes

And I knew Apatow movies ran long, so I was clocking my iPhone during "This Is 40." After we passed the 90 minute mark, I started watching those around me. Sure enough, as we got further and further away from 90 minutes, I started seeing people pulling out their phones checking the time:

"...this f'ing movie is STILL not over??..."

Like "Bridesmaids", there's just a lot of nonsense that could be cut to make the movie tighter and funnier.

404 said...

I never really thought Judd Apatow was that great. He's done some good ones, true, but overall? Meh. The main problem I have with him, though, is dialogue. I can't stand filmmakers who don't know how to write profanity and sex.

Don't get me wrong--I have no problem with profanity at all. When it's done right and sounds natural. But Judd's films seem to think that most people drop an f-bomb as quickly and often as they breathe, regardless of the context, and it's just very distracting and annoying.

How can Quentin Tarantino use the same frequency of profanity and make it sound good? I don't know, but he does. Meanwhile, Judd Apatow comes off like a middle school student in a creative writing class who just found out the teacher will let him use swear words in his composition, and by God he's going to use as many as he can! And don't get me started on how he deals with sexual situations. Ridiculous and cringe-worthy most of the time. And not in a good way.

Corinne said...

I was in a theater in which the audience arrived ready to laugh. There were several groups starting the party before the movie even began. That audience was primed.

There they sat, seeking opportunities for even a giggle. Awkward. My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Momma Mia may not be Oscar calibre but they had the audience with them through the whole movie. At least with the audiences I saw the movies with.

I saw This is 40 with free movie points. My audible, "At least I didn't *pay* to see that" almost had me lynched on the way out the door by those who had.

2 hours too long.

Richard J. Marcej said...

Ahhh, the Barney Miller classic brownie episode with the late, great Jack Soo:

"Barney... Barney... Barney... was your mother from Kelearney? "

and of course

"Mushy mushy."

chicoruiz said...

Another classic Jakc Soo line from that episode: "Hey..let's go down to the beach and shoot some clams..."

Unknown said...

Ken, Lawrence of Arabia was 3 hours and 57 minutes long, not 1 hour and 56 minutes.

Johnny Walker said...

I don't know if I've posted this here before or not, but the Theatrical Cut of The 40-Year-Old Virgin is astonishingly superior to the "Extended" Cut they original put out on home video...

The 15 minutes they added to the film only got in the way of the story and the characters. If you've never seen the shorter version, I strongly recommend it: It was *finally* released on home video last year:

It's The 40-Year-Old Virgin, only much better.

Tom said...

Edit out an hour, re-release, this would be a funny movie.

Phil said...

About halfway through I turned to a friend watching with me and said "aren't they 41 by now?" if that's any indication of the length. Love the review, Ken. I'm doing some on Huffington Post, but as I'm a screenwriter too, I'm trying to keep it to the ones I like as we all know how much work goes into a film - and when it comes out bad it's just sad in so many ways all way round, if you know what I mean?

Lizbeth said...

I also disliked this film a lot which disappointed, because I was hoping Apatow would do better.

It mostly annoyed me that I was forced to watch the most boring and most self-indulgent and most expensive HOME MOVIE of all times.

I feel Apatow is so out of touch that he doesn't realize nobody else thinks his wife, kids, and friends are as hilarious as he thinks they are.

He puts in so many random cameos of his friends who ramble on about nothing and he apparently doesn't have the heart or balls to EDIT his kids or wife no matter how UNNECESSARY the scene is.

Plus, no one else in the world cares about his superficial "Hollywood problems." We don't relate to these people, and we don't feel for them because they are unlikable, self-absorbed assholes, as you mentioned.

I doubt Apatow will do better next time, unless he stops dismissing the criticism, and really tries to push himself to be funnier (and maybe a bit deeper); challenges himself artistically by literally going outside his own backyard; and stops laughing at his friend's lame fart and dick jokes and starts writing real comedy.

Daddy Background said...

You've previously written reviews of movies I wanted to see that I carefully avoided. It's my own process, a preferential tic: see the movie and THEN read the reviews.

I haven't seen this movie. I enjoyed reading your review.

Lizbeth said...

Also wanted to add, that I liked "The 40 Year Old Virgin", but I think most people underestimate just how much better the lead actors are in that film.

Steve Carrell and Catherine Keener are in a totally different class from Rudd and Mann and they were able to give depth and soul to their characters.

I believe these secondary characters from "Knocked Up" were not strong enough to carry a film to begin with, but "This is 40" is further weakened by keeping Rudd and Mann in these roles, since both are strong supporting characters, but not good leads (in my opinion).

I know Rudd and Mann are both very attractive and experienced, but their acting lacks nuance and depth, and that becomes more obvious the more screen time they are given.

emily said...

Awww..."Unknown" didn't get the Lawrence of Arabia gag...poor baby.

Rebecca said...

Agreed with everything except about Leslie Mann. I like her a lot.

thesamechris said...

If you write "spot on", it's like when somebody explained irony to you, and you said "got it".

Tom Quigley said...

I guess I was spoiled by the ultimate "facing the crisis of turning 40" movie, 10, with Dudley Moore, Julie Andrews and Bo Derek. Even after all these years, for me it still does a great job of showing a man trying to figure out at this milestone if he still wants the same things out of life he's always been satisfied with.

Ron said...

Cold Opens- Friday Question

I was wondering what the thinking is behind the cold open ? What's the purpose ? I noticed on Cheers that it never had anything to do with the show.

Bill said...

This has nothing to do with the thread. This isn't even a Friday question, although I hope you DO review ...The new Community. I just tried to make it through the first episode and had to turn it off. I want to remember it the way it was. If I ever doubted the power of the show runner to create brilliance or dreck with the same cast and theme, I never will again. What A MESS. It makes me heart sick.

gottacook said...

Haven't seen an entire Apatow movie yet, but this reminds me of Blake Edwards' That's Life (1986), which might have been called This Is 60 - about the problems of wealthy Malibu residents Jack Lemmon, Julie Andrews, and (as their kids) one of Edwards' children, one of Andrews', and one of Lemmon's.

Breadbaker said...

Duck Soup was 68 minutes. I don't recall looking at my watch.

-bee said...

You say another actress like Julie Bowman could have done better with the part - but I have the feeling the whole reason this film exists in the first place is as a showcase for Mann.

If memory serves, she got great reviews for playing the same part (as a supporting role) in Knocked Up - I'm guessing the best reviews of her career - so Apatow probably in part revived the character in hopes it would get her more work.

As for Apatow himself, IMO the best thing he has ever been associated with is the TV show "Freaks and Geeks" - though its' likely the primary mastermind of that was Paul Feig.

BOB said...

This was my first Judd Apatow movie. We didn't make it past 30-35 minutes. Thank goodness I got hold of a screener DVD and didn't laugh in my own home. If I'd bought tickets I would have been at the box office asking for my money back.

You know what they say, you never get a second chance at a first impression.


Michael said...

I have never seen a Judd Apatow movie. I don't feel deprived.

I am reminded of a comment by Ken's and my hero, The Vin, who said that he has never understood the people who say baseball games are too long. He said when he was a kid and could barely afford a ticket, if a game was quick, he felt short-changed. Judd Apatow appears to be to directing what Yankees-Red Sox games are to short baseball games.

Anonymous said...

I've been watching all the seasons of Barney Miller coincidentally. It was a good show! And smart and funny. I thought I was the only one who didn't get the Apatow mystique. I tried to watch several of his movies, but gave up after a while. I made it through Funny People (which was not funny to me and was long and disjointed). That was it for me. Never again. Life is too short.

Storm said...

"Hey, has anybody seen my legs?"

That episode was on recently; I must have replayed it four or five times before I erased it, and it just got funnier. (It didn't hurt that I myself was as high as a mink coat)

Cheers, thanks a lot,


Pat Reeder said...

Coincidentally, I was thinking of going to see "This Is 40" this weekend, because I heard Graham Parker was in it. I'm a huge fan and hoped this movie would give his music some much-deserved exposure. Now, I'm wondering if it's worth sitting through all the Apatowiness to see the Graham Parker bits. Anyone want to tell me how much screen time he has? If it's only a few minutes, I'll play a couple of his albums and wait for it to hit cable, where I can DVR it and fastforward to the music scenes.

BTW, it sounds as if Apatow has reached the point that Neil Simon did before he reenergized his muse with "Brighton Beach Memoirs." I remember the SCTV parody with Eugene Levy as Judd Hirsch playing the Neil Simon-based writer character in a Neil Simon film. His scripts had become so insular that he sits at the typewriter and types, "He sits at the typewriter." Then he fiddles with a houseplant and types, "...plays with some leaves..." etc. It ended with one of the characters launching into a scathing rant about him getting out of his rut and writing things that are actually funny again. I imagine it was exactly what the SCTV cast wanted to say to Neil Simon themselves, so they just put into the script.

Jokesfb said...

I love this post and wish to come again for more topics like this Thanks for Ken Levine

KB said...

Well said... The great Earl Pomerantz has 2 posts involving "This is 40" on his blog btw.

Anonymous said...

I agree - I also am not a Apatow hater - he is very talented BUT his last two films "Funny People" and now "This is 40" are bloated messes. Yes there are funny scenes but that does not a movie make. The scripts are rough drafts and people should have told him he needed to revise and fix. Rudd and Mann's characters were too whiny and self involved (Oh, dont you hate it when you start your own indie record label and then...) Boo hoo. And yes, the length of his moves are ridiculous - I was calling This is 40 - Zero Dark This Is 40 because it was torture to sit through.

Debby G. said...

I had no sympathy for two wealthy people kvetching about money. But I loved Albert Brooks and Melissa McCarthy!

Little Miss Nomad said...

I like Judd Apatow as a person and loved Freaks and Geeks and some of his earlier movies, but This is 40 was so bad that it really killed a lot of the goodwill I have towards him. Funny People no longer looks like a one-time mistake. What he needs is not to be surrounded by family members and acolytes but editors and producers who can say, hey, let's try something else, because this is not good.