“This Is Unbearable”

“This Is 40”
Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann
Directed by Judd Apatow

When we last saw Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) – the bickering married parents from the 2007 hit romantic comedy “Knocked Up” that starred Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl – they had more or less perfected the art of compromise and narrowly averted a divorce that would have thrown their family into a tailspin.

Now, just in time for their 40th birthdays (they were born a few days apart), they have their own movie, ominously titled “This Is 40.” But it would appear that the issues they had five years ago were just the tip of the iceberg. When they’re not screaming at each other, they’re screaming at their daughters. Or their daughters are screaming right back at them (or at each other). Or Pete and Debbie are screaming at their lame fathers. Or Debbie is screaming at a boy who made fun of her daughter on Facebook. Or Pete is screaming at that kid’s mother for not fessing up about her son’s cyber-bullying.

Yes, there sure is a lot of screaming going on in “This Is 40.” In fact, there’s so much shouting that one has to wonder if returning “Knocked Up” writer-director Judd Apatow screamed at everyone on the set. Or maybe he just screamed at his computer and smashed away at the keyboard while writing the screenplay.

Apparently, everything falls apart when you turn 40: your marriage, your sex life, your career, your health, your home and your stability. The ball really gets rolling when Pete realizes how much money his start-up music label is losing (which in turn forces him to fall behind on his mortgage), and Debbie discovers that one of her employees stole thousands of dollars from her store. Then Debbie is faced with the motherlode of all midlife surprises, which puts the rest of her problems into fierce perspective.

If it all sounds like a depressing way to spend 2 hours and 15 minutes, that’s because it is. Perhaps it would have been more cathartic if it didn’t feel so contrived and mean-spirited, but “This Is 40” goes from one melodramatic moment to the next, and it’s way too long (as most of Apatow’s films are, especially 2009’s “Funny People”).

But perhaps the biggest problem with “This Is 40” is that the characters played by Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann (Apatow’s real-life wife) are so grating and unlikable. The same goes for their respective fathers: Pete’s dad (Albert Brooks) is a mooch who has three adopted young kids, while Debbie’s estranged father (John Lithgow) is a busy surgeon who doesn’t even know the names of his grandkids. At least those bratty kids – played by Apatow and Mann’s real-life daughters Maude and Iris Apatow – come off as mildly sympathetic, if only because they have such annoying parents.

While Judd Apatow has become a major filmmaking voice over the last decade, thanks to hit movies he both directed (“The 40-Year-Old Virgin”) and produced (“Bridesmaids”), “This Is 40” qualifies as his worst film yet, and not even supporting turns from reliable Apatow mainstays like Jason Segel and Melissa McCarthy can save it. The heartfelt intimacy and raunchy humor that defined his previous efforts have been replaced by indulgent melodrama, and if this is what 40 looks like, I sure would hate to see 50.

-Scott Mantz