I’ve met Judd Apatow and his actress wife Leslie Mann a few times. I always liked them but I didn’t know much about them. After watching “The is 40” and doing a little research I feel like I know a lot now. “This is 40” is written and directed by Apatow, and stars Mann and their two young daughters playing the children of Mann and Paul Rudd. In the film, Rudd owns a successful record label, and he only signs acts he’s passionate about but don’t really sell. One of those acts is real life late 70s cult hero Graham Parker, now 62 and one of my favorite singers of all time. Parker and his original, legendary band the Rumour are reunited for “This is 40.”
Are you following this? Apatow’s 90 year old grandmother, Molly Shad, also appears in the film. Her late husband, Bob Shad, Apatow’s maternal grandfather, died in 1985 at age 65. He was in the pre-rock record business, but also wound up introducing Big Brother and the Holding Company (featuring Janis Joplin) and the Amboy Dukes (featuring Ted Nugent). He mostly issued jazz records. His labels were cult like but never really big, just influential. So you see where Apatow gets the inspiration for Paul Rudd’s Pete character.
Apatow tried making one “adult” comedy in 2009 with “Funny People” and it didn’t work. With “This is 40,” Apatow really succeeds. Even if “This is 40” is too long (it really needs to be cut by 15 minutes), it still works abundantly. Leslie Mann, because she’s Mrs. Apatow and always stuck in the second banana role, never gets enough credit. In this film, she not only shines but she sort of takes over the film from Rudd (and that’s not easy to do). She does remind me of Julie Hagerty crossed with Gracie Allen, but it’s just an echo. Mann is a gifted comedienne on her own. I hope she at least gets a Golden Globe nomination out of this.
Apatow has lots of hits he’s either written, directed, or produced, or some combo of those roles. Most are commercial hits without much real world grounding. There’s a lot of misogynist stuff, male bonding, women as objects. But now he’s 40, he’s softened, his daughters are growing up and he can’t get away with it. “This is 40” is his personal growth movie. But it’s not saccharine or preachy, it also avoids some of the smug sanctimoniousness that has crept into a few of his other films and a lot of Adam Sandler’s. He gets the tone just right. My only nitpick is too many name brand references and inside-Hollywood jokes. (The kids are watching “Lost.” The adults gossip about George Clooney’s personal life. It’s annoying.)
Rudd and Mann, in the film, have been married 15 years. They live well but teeter on financial ruin. Each has a terrible father who in turn has a second marriage with young children. (Interestingly, the mothers are almost not mentioned at all.) They’re still in love, but they are just crossing the line from maybe staying together to realizing they are in it for life. How Apatow managed to direct his whole family through a fictional version of his own life is another story. But, again: it works. And you can feel his whole oeuvre making a big turn toward something new and exciting.
I hope Universal is about to market the hell out of it. This is a sweet spot film for people 35-50. They’re going to get it in a big way. “This is 40” is just a smart, funny comedy inhabited by the good people Apatow had a hard time defining before this. Now he’s got it.
PS Great soundtrack that includes Graham Parker and the Rumour as the cult band of the 70s, and Ryan Adams as his contemporary parallel. Parker sing shis classics “Local Girls” and “Protection.” I hope everyone who sees the film immediately downloads the seminal album, “Squeezing Out Sparks.” Apatow has a great ear.