Movie Review: 'This is 40' -- 3.5 stars

From left: Iris Apatow, Maude Apatow, Paul Rudd

From left: Iris Apatow, Maude Apatow, Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann in "This Is 40." (Credit: From left: Iris Apatow, Maude Apatow, Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann in "This Is 40.")

This is 40
3.5 stars
Directed by Judd Apatow
Starring Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Albert Brooks, Jason Segel
Rated R

Paul Rudd had a succinct way of introducing a clip from "This is 40" when he appeared on the "Late Show with David Letterman" this week: "This is [co-star] Leslie [Mann] and I talking about just being 40."

That description doesn't only fit the brief snippet from Judd Apatow's film shown to CBS viewers. It's a great summary of the whole shebang, in which Apatow grapples with his fears of aging through the familiar comic blend of ribald humor and unforced sentimentality. There's no plot or story structure here, just a portrait of your everyday upper middle class California family of four -- three of whom are played by Apatow's wife (Mann) and children -- living their lives in the days leading up to mom and dad's 40th birthdays.

It's a testament to Apatow's knack for scripting authentic dialogue and his keen sense of the way a segment of the population lives now that the movie is no less fun or resonant than "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" or "Knocked Up." In this film, a spinoff of the latter, Rudd reprises his "Knocked Up" role of Pete. You might recall that he's married to Debbie (Mann) and the father of Sadie (Maude Apatow) and Charlotte (Iris Apatow). Over the course of 134 minutes, the family suffers financial pressures and a range of personal struggles as they try to congeal into a functional unit in an age of multimedia distractions.

Apatow's movies depend on layered pop cultural tones, in which a frantic conversation about viagra or an argument about "Lost" can double as a revealing portrait of a character's inner being. "This is 40," which is driven entirely by those interactions, represents his mastery of that form. Pete channels his unease into bicycle riding and iPad games. Debbie, who owns a clothing store, parties with a sexy employee (Megan Fox). The parents desperately try to carve out quality family time.

That doesn't sound like riveting entertainment, but it flat out works. Apatow knows three of his four stars better than anyone and he's plenty familiar with Rudd, too, so the screenplay is nicely tailored to their particular talents.

The film mines recognizable thematic territory -- after all, we've all had to grapple with that big birthday and all that it represents -- and it does so with vivid immediacy. It's a fine example of Apatow's speciality: personal filmmaking and broad Hollywood entertainment in one neat package.


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