This Is 40: Aging grossfully

December 21, 2012

from Indy Week

In the comedies of Hollywood writer-producer-director Judd Apatow, two rules apply: People grow up painfully and reluctantly, and filthier always equals funnier.

thisis40Apatow’s new comedy, This Is 40, is no exception. Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann reprise their roles from Knocked Up as Pete and Debbie, an attractive but chronically unhappy married couple trying to navigate adulthood with two young daughters.

Pete owns a record label, where he’s trying to revive interest in old-school acts such as Graham Parker and Paul Westerberg. Debbie owns a boutique clothing store, where she employs 20-something hotties including one played by Megan Fox.

That’s really all you need to know, because This Is 40 isn’t much of a movie. It’s more of a premise upon which a dozen funny performers riff on hard-R topics.

There are hundreds upon hundreds of Apatow-style jokes in this thing, both scripted and clearly improvised. Jokes about colonoscopies and mammograms and gynecology tools. Jokes about abortion and spousal murder and setting other moms on fire. Jokes about hemorrhoids and egg donors and toilet habits. Jokes about escorts and Oxycontin addicts and French-kissing babies. Jokes about Jews and lesbians and how to tell a gay man mustache from a straight man mustache. And, of course, dick jokes—lots and lots of dick jokes.

At two hours and 15 minutes, it’s extreme and exhausting. But it’s often very funny, thanks to the mathematics of sheer volume. I laughed a lot, even when I didn’t want to. Look for funny bits from Albert Brooks, Robert Smigel, Lena Dunham and especially Melissa McCarthy, who once again demolishes every scene she’s in. (Stick around for the end credits.)

But nothing really lingers. This is comedy of situation and language, not character. Despite a noble effort from Mann, the people we’re supposed to care about aren’t worth our affection. If you want to watch self-absorbed Los Angelenos crack dirty jokes for two hours, this is your movie. You’ll have a genuinely good time, then instantly forget it all in the theater parking lot.

This article appeared in print with the headline “Aging grossly, and gracefully.”


from Indy Week

In recent years, I’ve noticed a curious algorithm regarding pop culture oddsmaking: In any given week of DVD releases, the most interesting title hitting shelves is almost always an independent documentary. I have a theory as to why documentaries hold such an appeal these days: Because docs are about real places and real people, they provide a sense of wonder that we don’t experience too much at the multiplex anymore. I love it when I go to the movies and a story blows me away. But when a true story blows me away, I get really interested.



Scary documentaries, in particular, can be much more frightening than the most explicit horror films. Take, for instance, two very different docs that were featured earlier this year at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham. Both have since gone on to great success, and considered together, they’re even scarier than the sum of their parts.

The Queen of Versailles features some of the most hallucinatory sequences of the year. The film chronicles a year or so in the life of billionaire couple David and Jackie Siegel, as their time-share real estate empire collapses around them. The Siegels, wrapped for so long in their delusional world of extreme wealth, have no idea how to tighten the household budget. Jackie takes the family stretch limo to the McDonald’s drive-through. David sells all the furniture but insists on preserving the commissioned oil paintings of himself (mounted shirtless on horseback). It’s raw footage of One Percenters in psychosis, and it would be funny if it weren’t so terrifying.

The fest’s other scary movie was Detropia, which concerns the devastating economic collapse of the city of Detroit and was recently shortlisted for this year’s documentary Oscar. The film is similarly packed with surreal images—blocks of derelict houses, packs of feral dogs, avant garde artists wandering the ruins in spaceman suits. Several experts in the film speculate darkly that Detroit is the canary in the coal mine, and what’s happened here will happen in the rest of America. As a member of the vast Detroit diaspora, the film depressed me mightily. Taken together, these two films were like watching the American Dream get crushed from above and below.

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