Judd Apatow loves his characters like family—it helps, of course, that they are his family. Leslie Mann, a soulful fretter who’s always best in projects directed by her husband, allows their two girls to appear in the movies, this time in larger, brattier roles than in Knocked Up (of which This Is 40 is a spin-off). Completing the new comedy’s household as an indie-label-founding dad is Paul Rudd, who, as a four-time Apatow vet, must feel like a close cousin at least. The intimacy among cast members is what makes the latest film soar, half of the time. While TV offers similar neurotics on a weekly basis, no one else in Hollywood is as hip as Apatow to today’s domestic squabbles: to home-office negotiations to “be happy,” casual bed farting and the parental banning of iProducts.
But this free-form, episodic bickering—majestic though it sometimes is—doesn’t feel like quite enough for a story, and even though a pair of side plots involving remarried parents (nebbishy Albert Brooks and waspy John Lithgow) are well acted, they don’t amount to the kind of catharsis you’d expect after two hours. The peripheral ensemble (of which Megan Fox, as a mysteriously moneyed shop clerk, emerges as the most intriguing) strains with underwritten sketch parts. Why is Apatow allowing for so much slackness? It all comes down to the Big Birthday Party and a furious bike ride, which he’s clearly done before, in The 40 Year Old Virgin. As his title implies, he could have taken a deeper plunge into the main task of middle age: revision.
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Cast and crew