This Is 40: Hollywood on Aging

This Is 40: Hollywood on Aging December 19, 2012

Review of This Is 40, Directed by Judd Apatow


Pete (Paul Rudd) got Debbie (Leslie Mann) pregnant, got married, and a few years later, they have two kids and they are 40 years old. Well…Debbie thinks she is 38, but later we discover she is actually 40. This Is 40 is a spinoff of Knocked Up, where Pete and Debbie were supporting characters.

First off, as an evangelical, let me say that This Is 40 is not a family-friendly film. The film plays on awkward and sexual humor, joining the long line of romantic comedies that have persistently graced American theaters since American Pie kicked things off back in 1999. This is 40 tries to add some novelty by exploring this subgenre of comedy from the perspective of an older couple. Unfortunately, Judd Apatow does not milk this aspect for all it’s got. Despite the title, the theme of age does not play as large a role as it could have, and as a result, the film fails to stand out as a romantic comedy.

This Is 40 revolves around Pete and Debbie’s joint decision to renovate their lives, using their birthdays (both are in the same week) to mark a milestone, move forward with no regrets, and reclaim a youthful attitude toward life—not to mention abstaining from cupcakes (Pete) and cigarettes (Debbie). Both have imperfect fathers—Pete has secretly lent his financially dependent father $80,000 over the course of the year and Debbie’s father has been absent from her life for seven years and only recently reemerged. Their two daughters are constantly bickering, with the older one allegedly addicted to technology and social media. Pete’s record label, Unfiltered, has been hemorrhaging cash and the most recently signed artist has failed to bring in any money, while Debbie’s clothing store is missing $12,000.

Although This Is 40 tries to anchor the plot in its primary couple, the story meanders and lacks a primary thrust. It seemed like a variety of comedic vignettes patched together around two people who are not willing to take responsibility for themselves and whose surrounding family members share the same character flaw. Pete and Debbie may be forty, but they act like children.

When the movie addresses the issue of age head-on, This Is 40 is an interesting look into Hollywood’s view of the subject. The opening scene shows Pete struggling with sexual impotence and Debbie worrying that she is not attractive anymore. There is no more “mystery” in the relationship (i.e., Debbie walks into the bathroom several times while Pete is on the toilet, and Pete farts in bed). Dealing with their kids takes up much of their time together and their “dates” consist of attending concerts for Pete’s work—concerts that Debbie finds boring.

Though the film does not bemoan age as some movies do, it focuses very much on the physical aspects of aging as a couple and equates familiarity with monotony. The more serious parts of This Is 40 were reserved for shallow reconciliation with little allusion to anything substantive. The film advertises itself as an uncensored look at love among the middle aged, but remains a bit two-dimensional. It never celebrates the joy found in the longevity of a relationship, or the intimacy born of suffering together through trials, both of which could still be fodder for comedy. Nor does it speak of the respect owed to older people (Lev. 19:32; Prov. 16:31) and the wisdom attained through age (Job 12:12, 32:7). Most importantly, for the Christian, growing old allows us to look back and recount God’s faithfulness through the years (Ps. 71:17, 143:5; Isa. 46:4).


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