Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Movie Review: This is 40 (2012) -- Overall Rating 2.75 / 5

I wrote this a few days ago, waiting to publish it until after I finished my summary reviews. Rather than let it stagnate here it is.

Starring Leslie Mann & Paul Rudd
Directed by Judd Apatow
Rated R

Story: 2 / 5
Direction: 2 / 5
Acting: 4 / 5
Visual: 3 / 5
Overall Rating: 2.75 / 5
Explanation of rating categories appears at the bottom of each review posting.

This is 40 is the self-proclaimed sort-of-sequel to Knocked Up and in every single respect it is certainly that; a continuation of the exact same style of comedy that Judd Apatow is now notorious for churning out.

The story picks up several years after the events of Knocked Up and focuses on Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) and their continued marital struggles. These two characters worked in small doses in Knocked Up and actually added a bit of depth to what was otherwise a bafflingly written study of human relationships. In This is 40 they become the same sort of eccentrics as all of his protagonists.

Apatow’s biggest problem is that he has no idea what the tone of his movies should be. Is he making a comedy with a heart or a drama with a few funny scenes in it?  His films try to mix too much of each element and end up a mess. With the exception of The 40 Year Old Virgin (which undoubtedly kicked off the “Apatow School of Comedy”) he shoots his films like a drama, attempts to pace them like a drama, but fills them with completely unbelievable banter and character interaction. The audience doesn’t know how to react.

This is all exacerbated by Apatow’s lack of any female input in his writing. Let me clarify, I don’t know that he doesn’t have any female input, he does put his wife in these movies and I hope he lets her look at the scripts at least, but it sure feels like he doesn’t. He writes his interaction between men and women the way he must perceive women’s thought patterns (ok, lads, insert your jokes now about how women are ultimately unknowable). This is fine if your film doesn’t attempt to get into the mindset of its female protagonist and leaves them a mystery (for a fantastic example of this style see 500 Days of Summer), but these are character study films. The audience is meant to sympathize with both leads and be charmed when they come to the sappy conclusion. He gets his conclusions right; things work out the way they sometimes do in life, but how he gets to that conclusion always omits realistic female interaction. He’s like a child with a chemistry set that knows when he mixes the white stuff with the blue stuff it goes “poof”, but has no interest in understanding those chemicals and in what proportions he needs to mix them.

These failings aside; the performances are great, though mostly when the film is acting like a comedy. The best performance by far is in a very small cameo by Melissa McCarthy, who will no doubt lead several films in 2013 and get on America’s nerves. It has nothing to do with her looks, or her stature, she is a brilliant small dose supporting role. Like a well-timed left hook, she can deliver a stunning laugh, but if used over and over again is totally ineffective. Chris O’Dowd (Roy from The IT Crowd) and Jason Segel (who is reprising his character from Knocked Up) make appearances and again steal the scenes they are in, or maybe it’s just my affection for The IT Crowd and The Muppets that has skewed my perspective. Is it also weird to say this movie softened my opinion on Megan Fox?

Would I recommend this film?  Not really. Maybe when it’s on TV, try to catch it in small doses. A comedy clocking in at 2 hours and 14 minutes is about 45 minutes too long to be viewed in one sitting.

Explanation of Ratings

All ratings are on a 5 point scale where 1 is the lowest possible score. A score of 3 indicates the film was simply effective in this regard. A score of 5 indicates perfection in a given category. The overall rating is a simple average of the four scores.

  • Story -- How well the film was written?  Did the story make sense?  Were there plot holes?  Was the dialogue natural for the style/genre?
  • Direction -- How well was the film put together?  Did all of the elements come together properly?  How was the pacing?  Was the tone consistent and effective?  A subcategory of this would be editing, but for the purpose of these reviews it is combined into one category.
  • Acting -- How good were the performances?  In a drama did the lead actor/actress draw the audience in?  In a comedy where the performers funny?  This is an amalgam score of all the performances in the piece. A single great performance can elevate the entire score, but a bunch of bad performances can just as easily bring it down.
  • Visual -- How did the film look?  If there were visual effects were they used appropriately and did they look good?  Did the overall look enhance the telling of the story?

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