Judd Apatow is to comedy films as Martin Scorsese is to dramatic films or Quentin Tarantino is to genre films (well, for me anyways). There have been a vast number of auteurs in film history, including some great ones still working today, who often write their own material, direct it, and have similar themes and techniques. Unfortunately, there never seemed to be any huge comedy auteurs, and especially nowadays it’s pretty unheard of. Apatow is really the only one that comes to mind (currently), but correct me if I’m completely blanking on someone. Granted, Apatow’s films that he has written and directed all have several more serious themes, such as growing up, family, and getting old, but are still mainly comedies through and through. I love this balance in his films, where you get all the dick and fart jokes you could possibly dream of, but he instills his films with such honesty and sympathy toward the characters that it’s hard not to engage with the film both emotionally and comedically. This is the prime reason why Knocked Up is my favourite comedy of all time, even with the presence of the godawful Katherine Heigl.
This Is 40, a quasi sequel to Knocked Up, isn’t Apatow’s most layered film, but is obviously something he feels strongly for, and is modeled by his current life status. There really is no plot here, basically just Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann’s characters hit a wall in their marriage and try to work it out, while frustrating for other viewers, I found it to free the film up a little bit and allow it to be a little looser in format allowing the themes and comedy to not get bogged down in plot (something this kind of film doesn’t really need that much of). Like all Apatow films, it’s a good deal longer than it needs to be, and especially in a film like this with no huge plot markers or direction, there are plenty scenes that feel unnecessary and drag on for awhile. While not married, or even remotely close to being in these characters shoes, for me it’s hard not to understand the the themes of family, love and perseverance that Apatow, Rudd, and Mann exemplify through their characters ‘ actions and relative downfalls.
The acting was good all around, mainly. I generally like Maude and Iris Apatow in their father’s films, even if they are pushed to the forefront a bit too much on screen. Both were a bit stilted, but they’re both still kids, and I’m not that mean to deconstruct their performances. Maude had a few instances where you could see a great actress inside of her, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she got really good after some more practice and diversified roles. This is probably Leslie Mann’s best performances I’ve seen her in, and maybe her biggest starring role, I think? She gets to be funny of course, which she is, but her compassion and attempts to deal with her birth father (the fantastic John Lithgow) really let Mann hit those dramatic notes hard, and really make you feel for her as she is consistently an expert at playing sadness off her face. Apatow isn’t really the most stylish director, but he has some nice camera movements, and a few stylistic shots, especially during the vacation scenes, that heighten the feel of the film, and keep it from feeling generic.
I think through the well-explored themes and good jokes, while nothing revolutionary, Apatow succeeds in making the film he intended. Deeply funny, while keeping with the dealings of a marriage some 15 or so years in, how it changes you, your partner, and your life as a whole. As long as Apatow wrings the truth out of real-life, explores some of these issues to a more fuller and deeper extent, throws a joke or a hundred in the script, he’ll continue to have a great career looking at the serious and funny side of modern life.