In This Is 40, Judd Apatow pays a return visit to the lovely Los Angeles home of married couple Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann), last seen in Knocked Up struggling to cope with the challenges and responsibilities of parenthood.
They're still struggling. And they're still funny - talking about sex, and having sex, or trying to (This Is 40 opens with the two of them in the shower), talking about Simon and Garfunkel, talking about impromptu rectal exams and the psychic damage J.J. Abrams' Lost is inflicting on their oldest, Sadie. The 13-year-old has been binge-watching the entire six seasons of the epically mystifying series.
In short, This Is 40, in tried and true Apatowian style, mixes weighty issues about intimacy and cohabitation with astute and smart-alecky pop culture references, crude bathroom jokes, stoner riffs, boob ogling, and existential angst. It is also, like Knocked Up (and Funny People, with Adam Sandler), a highly personal affair. Writer/director Apatow has again cast his wife, the ridiculously charming and wacky Mann, and they've nudged their precocious kids, Maude Apatow (she's Sadie) and Iris Apatow (as Charlotte), in front of the cameras once more.
Occasionally, in the long-ish This Is 40, this celebration of family becomes, perhaps, too much - too cute, too clever, too narcissistic, parental pride forced on an unsuspecting public. It's like going over to friends' and being asked if you'd like to watch some home movies - a couple of hours later, you're still watching, and it's beginning to feel, um, awkward.
But awkwardness has always been part of Apatow's equation, too. The filmmaker's alter ego, Rudd's Pete, heads a floundering record label, pinning his hopes on a new reunion album by '70s pub rocker Graham Parker and his band, the Rumour. (Parker gamely pokes fun at himself and the image of an aging, quasi-rock star.) Pete has missed his mortgage payment, is behind on the bills, is still supporting his deadbeat dad (Albert Brooks), and has neglected to tell Debbie about the mess they're in.
And in Debbie's corner, the boutique she runs is only just making it, and she suspects her employee, Desi - the bombshell Megan Fox, amusing and amused - of embezzlement.
Apatow regular Jason Segel (a fitness guru, beamingly showing off his work on Debbie's glutes), comic Robert Smigel (Pete's bike-riding buddy), Charlyne Yi (Debbie's depressive shop worker), Chris O'Dowd, and Lena Dunham (Pete's record company staffers) join the fray. Albert Brooks as Pete's father sounds like a good idea, but it's a strange role, part mooch and part crank, and the other father figure in the movie - John Lithgow, as Debbie's long-estranged surgeon dad - is even weirder. In This Is 40, as in life, middle-aged parents have to deal with their parents, and that's not always easy.
So, This Is 40 is messy. But see it for its honest insights, its laughs, and for the terror Mann's character, as a mom defending her emotionally wounded daughter, rains down on a toothy school kid who's been sending unflattering texts.
Mann's verbal assault is hysterical, in both senses of the word.
Contact Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at www.philly.com/onmovies.