Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 
Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable

Review: How the Failings of Judd Apatow's 'This is 40' Make Other New Family Comedies Look Better

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire December 3, 2012 at 7:44AM

Review: How the Failings of Judd Apatow's 'This is 40' Make Other New Family Comedies Look Better
15
"Freaks and Geeks."
"Freaks and Geeks."

It wasn't always this way. Apatow's earlier works demonstrate a brilliant penchant for capturing the gulf between innocence and maturity. The single season of "Freaks and Geeks" that put Apatow on the map remains one of the best narratives about the pratfalls of teen life in modern times. "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up," while unfocused, maintained the same fundamental sweetness in their snapshots of men resistant to society's demands. At a certain point, however, Apatow's stardom gave him the authority to inject more of his personality into his storytelling, and the legacy overtook his capacity for nuanced humor. The bloated dramedy "Funny People" was an aggressively pompous look at stand-up comedians' dark lives, while "This is 40" comes across as a full-fledged work of narcissism -- a two hour-plus studio comedy about the Apatow broods' ordinary crises with no reason for its heft other than the director's popularity.

It might be easy to shrug off this kind of ego-driven strain of popular Hollywood filmmaking because Apatow has good intentions. Lena Dunham (who briefly pops up in "This is 40") would never have made the leap from writing and directing "Tiny Furniture" to translating her distinctly wry snark into the hit HBO series "Girls" if Apatow hadn't given her the chance. The director has similarly advocated for great filmmakers like Greg Motola and David Gordon Green. Few celebrity entertainers have the capacity to help their peers and actually invest time in doing it. Meanwhile, Apatow continues to make underwhelming, self-important dramedies mistaken by large swaths of moviegoers for representing the dominant strain of comedies concerned with American family life. It's a lot more complicated than that.

"Gayby"
Wolfe Video "Gayby"

Take, for example, the definitively funnier and more astute "Gayby," which hit theaters earlier this year. Jonathan Lisecki's relentlessly witty take on a thirtysomething woman and her longtime gay pal deciding to father a child together bucks the conventional notion of family values while celebrating the daring involved in pushing against those exact boundaries. Frank V. Ross' quietly perceptive "Tiger Tail in Blue" (which remains, for no good reason, without distribution) explores a young married couple stuck in a cycle of unfulfilled desires but constantly incapable of finding the words to communicate their dissatisfaction. The movie maintains a funny-sad tone in each scene that suggests comedy doesn't have to exist outside the reality of any given scenario. (Unlike "This is 40," Ross dares to make a moment of infidelity amusing without mocking its grave implications.) The mixed race coupling of Julie Delpy's "2 Days in New York" (in which she stars alongside Chris Rock) finds complex, neurotic and sophisticated married people capable of far more thoughtfully entertaining arguments than the cry-me-a-river antics of upper class strife in "This is 40."

Apatow's writing lacks the sophisticated humor found in any of these movies, but will probably make more money than all of them. Even as individual scenes drift along with a competent investment in throwaway lines and decent performances, the movie has nothing to offer beyond the implication that you're better offer taking life's obligations with a shrug. Worse, it assumes audiences will nod knowingly and play along. With an awareness that alternatives exist, we can do better.

Criticwire grade: C

HOW WILL IT PLAY? Opening on December 21 nationwide, "This is 40" stands a chance at a decent box office performance over the course of the holiday weekend and could maintain a solid commercial standing into the new year. Its prospects as a major awards season player are dicey, although it has a good shot at Golden Globes recognition.

This article is related to: Reviews, This Is 40, Judd Apatow






Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome



Awards Season Spotlight

Contender Conversations

Indiewire celebrates the best and brightest from Independent film, Hollywood, and foreign cinema.

More