This is Fourty
Or This is Forty if you’re foreign. Or This is 40 if you’re lazy and/or correct. However you spell it the title of this film fills you in almost perfectly on both its plots and intentions: this is a film about what it is like to be fourty…or forty, or 40. That though is a pretty vague mission statement, one that could and certainly already has made for many, many drastically different movies over the years – fourty (or fort- Ok, I’ll stop now) is of course the age of utmost industry potency and the perfect age for products to advertise to and so the stories we see are often written by and for people of this bracket – and so despite the plainness of the title it is another name on the poster that actually tells you the most about the movie: Judd Apatow.
No matter how you spell it Apatow’s name is a major brand at the moment – not only does he make a lot of massive movies but he apparently also produces an amount that would make even Guillermo Del Toro blush – but unlike most brand names put there his has real meaning to it. I would argue that Apatow is perhaps the most defined auteur currently working in cinema; regardless of whether or not you like his films you know exactly what to expect when you walk into one: namely shocking sexual and scatological humour mixed with strong social observation and all of this spoken by real and relatable characters in a context not too far off our own. Therefore it takes almost no imagination to picture what Judd Apatow’s This is Fourty is about, so I won’t bother synopsising it, but I will say this: the one thing that I never imagined was that the film would be this damn good.
Of course, even as concrete a name as Apatow’s is still not enough on its own to sell a movie and so this one, arguably his most daring yet given the lack of A-list stars and the ancient actors that he replaced them with in the lead, has been sold as something like a sequel to Knocked Up. Firstly that statement has almost no factual basis in reality, but its not such a bad tease for the taste of what you will get. While the events of Knocked Up are nary ever mentioned – people constantly remark on that fact that Paul Rudd has grown out his hair since they last saw him but this is the extent of it – tonally that was the closest Apatow had come to cementing the comedy/character hybrid that he knocks out of the park here.
As Bridesmaids – an Apatow production – and The Hangover – one of the rare comedy successes of late that wasn’t – have shown, audiences love a good bit of outrageous comedy; something that they can be shocked by, speak about how much they were shocked by it and then squeal in delight as they get to see their slow friends shocked by it for the first time. This was a fad piloted by Knocked Up and so it is what the movie is most remembered for these days, which is something of a shame given that underneath the uproarious abject it is actually also a rather moving and often quite mature little character piece.
The Fourty Year Old Virgin before that was a dish of comedy with a garnish of character which had a huge commercial success but not such a great critical one and his last effort, Funny People, reversed the ratio and ran itself afoul of opposite results; some more serious audience members loved it but the majority were turned off and turned away. With his second swing at Fourty Apatow manages to combine all of the carefully observed comedy of his early stuff with the depth and maturity that he tried and arguably failed to find elsewhere.
I’m not sure that there was a film in Twenty- Twelve that actually made me laugh as much as this one and yet, excluding the once scene that has outtakes over the end credits, there really isn’t much here that could be classed as ‘comedy’. None of the scenes feel like skits or sketches, short situations devised entirely for the purpose of setting up a single joke, rather they all flow naturally from the stories of the family that the film finds itself telling; the laughs coming almost as if by accident. And yet of course they aren’t, even if some were improvised there is still a lot of craftsmanship shown in the humour here, there is just even more that has gone into hiding it.
As Albert Brook’s character remarks after witnessing a particularly spiteful argument between the two leads: “ That was deeply uncomfortable. Thank god that pretty girl was here to divert our attention.” He is of course talking about Megan Fox, who when you Google images of the film is nearly all that appears, but he could just as easily be making reference to the film’s comedic moments since, for the most part, they are the pretty girl that makes the awkward and all too true adult moments of the movie appear bearable and even entertaining. At its core though This is Fourty is very much a mature movie about what it is to supposedly be a mature person and that is as scary a topic as any horror movie synopsis that I have ever read.
This is a story that is obviously very close to Apatow’s heart and at first glance the film itself is very close to his own life; the wife and kids shown are of course his own. It’s not, however, something that I can truly say is close to my own life; at twenty-one it would be the height of immaturity to suggest that I could truly understand what being fourty is like. I can already understand though what it is like to have responsibilities that you do not feel ready for, to be scared by the seriousness of every decision you make and the impossibility of ever actually attaining pure empathy or perfect communication with another human being. This is a specific story but it tackles grand human themes in its intimate way. And hey, it also uses Lost and live music to carry certain thematic points through the plot and as a fan of both I found these sections easy to relate to.
Of course there are other names on that poster besides Apatow’s, namely those of the actors, a few of whom i have aforementioned. As the film’s protagonist Paul Rudd gives his most mature performances yet; not playing a handsome cad nor a goofy brother but a normal, genuine guy which is arguably the bravest move to make as an actor. Aside him Leslie Mann again shows why she should really be the star of more movies than those directed by her husband; playing a bit broader than Rudd perhaps but earning every moment of crazy with a quieter one.
Hell, Apatow even manages good supporting performances out of his two kids, the eldest of whom has reached that age where she can no longer get by on cuteness and novelty casting; she has to act as high and as low as the two leads and does just that. The youngest though is content to be cute and is asked to do no more than that. The other supports – among them Lena Dunham, Albert Brooks, John Lithgow, Megan Fox, Jason Segel, Melissa McCarthy and Chris O’Dowd – are also all hilarious and heartbreaking depending on what the scene asks of them. The two father figures, Brooks and Lithgow, are particularly brilliant during the films final act when their characters are tested and torn open deep before us.
My one qualm is with the structure of the script. This is a very messy movie, the arcs and messages are ambiguous to the point of being all but nonexistent though the film almost works even more so because of that. The rawness, the reality and the naturalism that this brings proceedings is above all what makes the film both a frightening and fawning look at what it is like to be fourty and what it is like to be not just a member of but the leader of a family. Though it was sold as a sequel to Knocked Up, a safe second helping of what we once liked, for me this is the most daring, most demanding and the defining feature in Apatow’s oeuvre to date.