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Life & Times

December 28, 2012

'This is 40' is a snapshot of life in all its messiness and beauty

As much as I adore the television hit “Modern Family,” the affable sitcom often sidesteps a certain ugliness of family life: the messy little elements that weave themselves into our circadian trials and triumphs; the demanding yet realistic balance of simply getting through the damn day.

“This is 40” nails it. The film is that messiness; that bitter truth that walks hand-in-hand with everything that’s sweet and simple.

Following along a trajectory of soft encounters, funny insights, hard words, volatile arguments, and tender embraces, Judd Apatow’s “This is 40” marks an interesting role for the comedic director. His fourth film is essentially Apatow’s autobiography, kicking the chair out from underneath the so-called stability of domestic life and documenting not only the collapse of the American family system, but also the salvation of it.

Mapping out the daily lives of Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann), the supporting yet scene-stealing married couple from Apatow’s second film, “Knocked Up,” “This is 40” picks up with this family as Pete and Debbie both await their 40th birthdays, which will occur on the same week. But this is just a slight arc for the characters to follow, as the film often meanders away from a normal plot direction and simply focuses on the moments.

There are hilarious moments, for sure, as Apatow surely knows how to write a comedic scene. His problem always seems to be of excess, and the only bloated feelings given off by “This is 40” exist in the moments of broad comedy that either run on a bit too long or seem out-of-place (a lengthy bit with Melissa McCarthy snags a good chunk of running time and feels superfluous throughout).

The moments that count in the film the most, however, are the ones that illustrate a truly intimate portrait of family life, in all its bad and good. Dialogue-free scrutiny of Paul and Debbie’s private moments at various points in the film (I won’t provide specifics) offer not only some of Apatow’s best observational work to date, but Rudd and Mann knock their performances out of the park.

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