I sat down for our date night movie expecting a respite from the mental sludge I find myself struggling under lately. Said sludge is thick, opaque and a mishmash of Important Big Things: family illness, school shootings, Republicans, hurricanes and Not As Important Smaller Things: I look tired, I want people to read my mind, my hair looks bad. Also, I am tired and my hair looks bad.
Stuff came up for me this summer just before turning 40, so I was hoping Judd Apatow and Company would get at some of those emotions in a funny and relevant way with his film “This is 40.” Being married for eight years, having young kids and retiring aged parents, being somewhat settled on paper but still feeling restless – I’ve found this time of life to be complex and compelling, fascinating and terrifying. A middle place, as its been called. I’m a parent but sometimes wish I could still be a child. I yearn for freedom and want less responsibility but realize I will only have to take on more as the years pass because of my choices and situation.
At 40, I think I have the components of what I want in life but find myself searching, and often feeling disappointed. I have been hearing many variations on the mid-life crisis theme in my own world: several friends questioning their sexuality, for example, one member of a couple becoming an extreme exercise fanatic, yet another losing a ton of weight and getting weird. I’ve heard amazing things: marathons run, television shows produced, books published. And terrible things: Cancer — every minute it seems.
So back to the movie. How was this not funny? What a hilarious time of life right?
Yes, I nudged my husband at many moments that were scripted straight from our morning and evening routines, and laughed a few times at some of the mostly mean spirited jokes and the mocking therapy speak. But it was more of a bitter laugh than a belly laugh. These people were kind of awful. And strangely, every time Apatow had an opportunity for humor he let it end on a thud with something really dark or depressing. There was so much screaming at each other (mom and dad, daughter and daughter, daughter and mom, mom and daughter’s friend, daughter’s friend’s mom and mom) that at least 3 or 4 people walked out of our screening. They couldn’t take it.
People are criticizing “This Is 40” because of the clueless White People Problems of this family. They have money and groovy Hollywood jobs that allow them lots of free time for workouts — cool offices and boutiques with neon signs and ironic employees with mustaches. They drive fancy cars, go to a lovely private school, have personal trainers and houses too large for their needs.
It is hard to feel bad for them as they “struggle” with money, when the implication is that it will all be fine. I think this is mostly a distraction from the examination of a family and its values that could have had resonance. The beautiful house and great stylist Debbie (Leslie Mann) has for her perfect Cali-boho mom look is Hollywood movie crap that won’t trust an audience to deal with real emotions and problems without gloss. It is a missed opportunity to actually examine some of the ways people live beyond their means in order to “keep up”, just as I think Debbie’s focus on her (very beautiful, bordering on perfect) looks do not do any service to the issue of women aging gracefully. Lying about her age in the doctor’s office? That’s just stupid. Who is she, my Grandma Jeannie? And all the supposed jokes about sagging breasts and hemorrhoids and gynecologists and no feeling “down there.” True, yes, but funny? Nope, not funny.
(And by the way, where the hell is the couple from “Knocked Up” and the kid? How about a mention of their whereabouts perhaps? Are they on an ashram in India or is that the next prequel/sequel?)
I think this movie really tried. Tried to be meaningful and honest by examining mid life and being in the middle place and blaming your parents and ultimately forgiving them. Trying not to be a hag (wife) or be checked out on the IPad playing Scrabble (husband) and being grateful for what you have (children, everyone in the movie). It wanted to say something about our culture’s bi-polar desires for indulgence and then self-improvement without wanting to do any really difficult, sustaining work.
And it’s bothering me because if this movie was marketed as a comedy as the trailer for it falsely did, then it at least should have been entertaining and better edited. Either that, or be a freaking documentary, with some normal looking people and the actual dullness of real life. I’m annoyed that if the tone decided upon by the director and editor was to be mostly insufferable for 2 plus hours, that that fact should have been plainly stated in the brochure: WARNING: THIS MOVIE IS NOT FUNNY. NOT WORTH IT FOR YOUR VERY RARE DATE NIGHTS.
But the real problem with this movie is a lack of true goodness in this couple you are supposed to care about and that my husband and I would want to hang out with on a double date. I wouldn’t want to have dinner with Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann’s characters, because I know they’d be talking shit on us after the date. But I would like to know who her dermatologist is and who does her hair and fashion styling and how she buys all those workout clothes and pays the decorator and the housekeeper without knowing there isn’t money in the bank.
So maybe this is the point of the film. Distractions are good because they keep us from getting at the thing that’s difficult: life’s a bitch and then you turn 40 and then eventually, after a not so hilarious doctor’s office montage set to cool music by Fiona Apple and Ryan Adams, you die.