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Have you ever watched a car crash in slow motion? Possibly in driver’s ed. back in high school? You know, where you can see what’s about to happen, and then you watch it unfold in excruciating detail while you try helplessly to look away? That’s kind of what it’s like watching This is 40. Except, when you watch a car crash, you generally hope that the person in the vehicle is okay or, at the very least, still alive. Judd Apatow’s semi-autobiographical follow up to Knocked Up is so painful to watch, so cringe inducing, that, at the end of the film, you desperately want the characters to die or, at the very least, get a divorce.

I suspect Apatow wanted his audience to find humor in the dysfunction. We are clearly meant to laugh at Debbie (Leslie Mann) and Pete (Paul Rudd) as they muddle through their marriage and self-destruct on screen. “Hey, look at that middle-aged person having a nervous breakdown! Isn’t it hilarious?!” The answer is, unfortunately, no.

That’s not to say there’s no humor in this film. There are a couple funny moments, particularly when Jason Segal and/or Chris O’Dowd are on screen. They provide some much needed levity in what is largely a very serious portrayal of an imploding marriage. The Apatow children also provide a little comedic relief, though… (you guessed it, I’m about to be an over-critical jerk) the comedy might have worked a bit better if the children’s roles were performed by more talented young actors.

Watching the film, I was reminded of something Judd Apatow said in an interview about making This is 40. Apatow was asked what it’s like directing his wife in love scenes. His answer was essentially that he can deal with this as long as she isn’t into it. Then he gets almost a perverse enjoyment out of making his wife kiss someone whom she finds disgusting, like Paul Rudd. [My apologies for not providing the link; I simply couldn’t find this specific interview, however he’s said similar things in several other interviews.] As I watched This is 40 I kept thinking about this interview because I really feel like the aforementioned distaste comes through in the finished project. Pete and Debbie can’t stand one another. Why then should I root for them to work things out?

In the end, the best thing I can say about This is 40 is that it will almost certainly make you feel better about your own comparatively healthy relationship or lack thereof. Then again, I did watch this film on a long-haul flight that had been delayed by five hours. Perhaps my foul tempers are to blame for my perception. I guess I should give Judd Apatow the benefit of the doubt. C-


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