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The realities of marriage This Is 40'

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Apatow's latest light on story

We've all got to grow up sometime.

That's the primary message behind writer/director Judd Apatow's latest offering, both in terms of the story itself and Apatow's own changes as a filmmaker. Growing up is the foundation of 'This Is 40,' billed as a 'sort-of sequel' to 2007's 'Knocked Up.'

Pete (Paul Rudd; 'Wanderlust') and Debbie (Leslie Mann; 'The Change-Up') are a married couple attempting to muddle through the realities of their life together as both approach 40. Pete runs a struggling independent record label that desperately needs a hit, while Debbie's boutique clothing store is losing money under mysterious circumstances.

Meanwhile, their two kids are proving a handful; Sadie (Maude Apatow; 'Funny People') is an angsty tech-obsessed teenager while Charlotte (Iris Apatow; 'Funny People') just wants everyone to stop being so mad all of the time. The stress between the couple familial and financial alike creates a constant stream of conflict.

Add to that some particularly complicated relationships with their respective fathers Pete's dad (Albert Brooks; 'Drive') is a passive-aggressive mooch; Debbie's dad (John Lithgow; 'The Campaign') is aloof and a long-time absentee and you have a marriage that is strained to the breaking point.

The biggest problem with 'This Is 40' is its lack of focus. There's no real central storyline we basically just meander through a period in the lives of some people in whom we're never really invested. Rudd is a more frazzled version of his usual nice guy persona, while Mann spends most of her time in a poor-me whine. The kids are sweet enough; they wouldn't be in this movie if their dad wasn't the director, but I've seen worse.

The supporting cast, while talented Brooks and Lithgow are joined by Jason Segel, Robert Smigel, Megan Fox, Melissa McCarthy and assorted others is almost entirely superfluous. All they do is exist within the orbit of the main characters; the film would have been none the worse for wear had any (or all) of them wound up on the cutting room floor.

That's not to say that there aren't some funny moments. There are actually quite a few; no one is denying Apatow's comedic chops. However, as crass as his humor trends, it still works much more effectively when it is couched in the midst of an honest story with real stakes. 'This Is 40' lacks an in-depth connection with its characters and so the jokes suffer a bit due to thin context.

It was probably inevitable that we would get this kind of movie from Apatow. So much of what he does is built around the emotional deficiencies of overgrown adolescents. But you can only deal with that sort of arrested development for so long; eventually, the man-child has got to grow up.

Of course, the temptation to view 'This Is 40' as autobiography is huge, despite Apatow's claims to the contrary. This is his real-life wife and his real-life children how can we not assume that on some level, Paul Rudd's Peter is serving as Apatow's cinematic avatar?

'This Is 40' is another signpost on Judd Apatow's road to growth. This couple from 'Knocked Up' has evolved in the five years since that movie, but it hasn't been easy. So too it goes with Apatow; he's doing his best to mature, but it has clearly been a struggle. It's an uneven effort, albeit a valiant one.

2.5 out of 5

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