The "sort of" sequel to Knocked Up finds Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) struggling through the monotony of marriage as they both turn forty and deal with their ever moodier children, Sadie (Maude Apatow) and Charlotte (Iris Apatow--you're sensing that Judd Apatow likes to keep it in the family when it comes to making movies, aren't you?). Financial issues are another factor in Pete's increasing disinterest in his marriage being that he feels he must hide that he has been lending money to his father, Larry (Albert Brooks), as well as the reality that his record label, Unfiltered Records, is about to go bankrupt.
With all of this weighing on his mind, there is also the additional pressure of Debbie's clothing store missing twelve thousand dollars from the books. Her two employees, Desi (the always attractive, yet "unwittingly" bitchy Megan Fox), and Jodi (the always disturbing Charlyne Yi), are the only ones who could have stolen it, and Debbie is inclined--with Jodi's influence--to believe that it is Desi, what with her designer clothes and new car not quite adding up with the amount of money she's being paid as a retail associate. Pete's problems with the people he employs aren't much better. An aloof deadbeat named Cat (Lena Dunham, who, as usual, contributes nothing to her role except whininess) and Ronnie (Chris O'Dowd), who is less than enthusiastic about Pete's decision to release Graham Parker & The Rumour's latest album (yes, it's a real band, in case you had any doubts--and a fucking amazing one at that).
The constant nagging of Debbie leads Pete to spend most of his time on the toilet pretending to take a shit as he plays games on his iPad. Sadie copes with the dysfunction of her parents by retreating into the world of J.J. Abrams' Lost, while Charlotte is simply too young and naive to let everyone's negativity really affect her. The revelation that Pete and Debbie have--one that could have come about forty-five minutes earlier in the movie than it does--is that their anger and resentment isn't really toward each other, but toward their parents. With Pete's dad shamelessly leeching off anyone with money and Debbie's largely absentee dad, Oliver (John Lithgow, still somewhat channeling the Trinity Killer), it's easy to see why both of them have so much residual indignation.
In many ways, This Is 40 suffers from the same dilemmas as Apatow's other not so well-received comedy, Funny People. While both films are technically considered comedies, the dramatic elements are often too real, which can throw an audience off balance--not to mention the obscene running times of each film. The only time Apatow has truly succeeded in blending comedy and drama on an equal and seamless level is with Freaks and Geeks. Otherwise, his true forte lies in the absurdist comedy (e.g. The 40 Year Old Virgin and Pineapple Express), where his knack for conciseness is allowed to shine through.
While This Is 40 possesses numerous moments of comedic gold, such as an exchange between Desi, Ronnie and Jason (Jason Segel), Debbie's trainer, in which Desi asks the difference between a straight man and a gay man's mustache, to which Jason replies, "The smell" and a parent/teacher conference that showcases Melissa McCarthy at her best, the film is still lacking a certain cohesiveness. The self-aggrandizing nature of the story comes off as more of a stylized day in the life of the Apatow family than a true exploration of what it means to turn forty.