I saw Judd Apatow‘s This Is 40 about six weeks ago, or on Thursday, 10.25. It was a mid-afternoon screening on the Universal lot on a hot day. I wrote the following to Apatow and the Universal publicist who invited me a few hours later. Well, that’s not true. I wrote a version of this letter, but I finessed it today…sorry. [Warning: Mild spoilers herein.]
“Judd — I don’t know if you personally signed off on my seeing This Is 40 this afternoon, but thanks if you did. I appreciated the opportunity & value the respect shown by your or the powers-that-be in allowing me to have an early looksee.
“Basically I think This Is 40 is a fairly ballsy act of self-portraiture as far as it goes. By that I mean it’s self-portraiture plus Apatow schtick for the first 75 minutes, which isn’t exactly in the realm of an Ingmar Bergman or John Cassevettes film in terms of frankly revealing the inner life of a filmmaker, but it’s certainly attempting that kind of thing while simultaneously going for the big audience. A less brave director wouldn’t have even flirted with a film like this. I mean that.
“All right, that’s the kiss-ass part of this letter and here comes the truth.
“I have to say that I think This Is 40 works best during the last hour, give or take, or roughly beginning at the 75 minute mark. But I think Leslie Mann is excellent all through it. She’s the spiritual anchor of the film, I think. I also loved the performances of Albert Brooks, John Lithgow and Melissa McCarthy. (This is still sounding kiss-assy.) But I honestly didn’t care for Charlyne Yi. Chris O’Dowd explodes in The Sapphires but his material wasn’t as good as it needed to be here. It’s an in joke having the manatee-like Jason Segel play a fitness trainer, right?
“And you’ve got your older daughter Maude playing…I have to say this carefully. She’s playing…I don’t want to make a mistake. She’s portraying a rather…don’t hate me for thinking these things about Maude’s character but it’s well-known that teenage girls are a pain to their parents. Your younger daughter is totally cool though.
“I loved the line about Megan Fox having painted an image of a vagina on her dark underwear. And the line about the last of Graham Parker‘s fans being taken away in an ambulance — that was excellent.
“I saw the love and the struggle and the humanity in Leslie’s “character”, of course, and the strain and the pressure in Paul Rudd‘s (i.e., yours) but mainly I felt the effort to sell their lives by way of fast schticky-angsty humor. I kept wanting the schtick to be dropped and the plain, awkward ordinaryness of life to come through in a Bergmanesque way. And I kept thinking to myself ‘boy, this movie is not a very attractive advertisement for West LA/Brentwood Liberal Values & Lifestyles’ and ‘I’m kind of glad this movie isn’t coming out before the election because it might persuade some people to hate liberals.
“You know how Bill Maher goes on about the Republican bubble that rightwingers live inside of, the thick gelatinous membrane that keeps out all the facts and the general reality of things? That’s what I felt during the first hour or so of This Is 40. Like I was stuck inside a Westside Liberal Membrane for people who live north of San Vicente and west of Bundy. ‘I’m not sure if I like these people very much,’ I was telling myself. ‘These people need to quit whining and complaining and basically take their fingers out of their asses and smell the wind coming off the sea, and the daughters need to read the Baghavad Gita or go work on a horse ranch or go to Africa to help impoverished people.
“It’s hard to put into words, but I read portions of the script when Universal put it online last week (or was it the week before?) and I’m re-reading certain portions as we speak, and a lot of it reads better than it plays. During the first hour, I mean.
“But like I said, it takes off and finds the groove and kicks into gear around the 75-minute mark. Starting with the scene in which Rudd is weeping in his BMW, which directly follows the scene in which he realizes that Graham Parker is not going to save his company financially. Of course, this is something that everybody in the audience knows from the get-go, but which takes Rudd over an hour to figure out.
“But after this point the anger and the fighting and the resentments really let loose, and that’s when the movie starts to really work.
“So much of the hassle and the tension of things comes from the Graham Parker situation, and that just didn’t fly for me. It’s hard to root for anyone who’s so blind to the realities of the music market that he’s pinning his hopes for survival on the ascendancy of Graham Parker and the Rumor. Rudd’s character has done pretty well for himself in the music business (a syou have in the film business), obviously, but suddenly he’s an idiot who thinks that he can sell Graham Parker in a big enough way so that his financial pressures will be alleviated? And the solution at the end is representing Ryan Adams, another getting-old guy?
“I have to say that being 40 is a pretty easy thing, Judd, if you don’t mind my saying. It’s officially the start of middle age but the ‘uh-oh’ feeling doesn’t really kick in until your mid to late 40s. I’ll tell you this: I look at photos of myself when I was 40 and I think to myself, ‘Wow…almost a spring chicken! Okay, a little bit of wear and tear has started to show by that point but very little, really.’ 40 is when your face begins to acquire a little character, and when moms enter the MILF stage. It’s pretty hot when you get right down to it. So I don’t get the angst.
“What guy is dumb enough to tell his wife or girlfriend that he took Viagra or Cialis before making love to her? It’s not only printed on the warning label. I think 15 year-olds know that when they get older they’re not supposed to tell their girlfriends that they’re taking it. It’s almost on the level of ‘go when the light is green and stop when it’s red.’
“Brooks kills it in every scene he’s in. McCarthy is really great because she never goes for the laughs. Lithgow is too pursed and pinched at first, or so I thought, but then he saves it at the very end, and that scene between he and Leslie.
“Marriage is hard, marriage is a grind, it’s not easy to keep the fires going, etc. Your film honestly deals with all that stuff, warts and all. And it honestly states that teenage girls (even the ones sired by the director-writer) can be whiny, abrasive and self-absorbed and dismissive of their parents. I just didn’t buy the quirky oddball humor in the first hour (particularly any and all material related to anal probes) and I didn’t buy the Graham Parker/music business material. But the final 50 minutes is pretty good stuff.
“So there’s my positive streak, my admiration, what I liked. ‘Get through the first 75 minutes so you can savor the really good final 50 minutes.’ Do I need to work on that line?”