by Jeff Beck, Guest Film Critic
Back in 2007, Judd Apatow brought us “Knocked Up,” an unfunny mess that was stretched out way beyond the capacity of the story. The story itself wasn’t terrible, but it was rather predictable as it fell into the trappings of the standard, clichéd romantic-comedy formula. Now Apatow has opted to revisit two of the characters from that film for his latest, entitled “This is 40.” Unfortunately, he has also decided to revisit all of the same problems the first film had, in addition to some new ones.

“This is 40” follows Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) five years after the events of the previous film. Pete tries to run a record label with only one client signed on, while Debbie runs a clothing store that is mysteriously losing money. With both of them turning 40, Debbie decides to set some new standards in regards to how they live their lives, such as healthier eating habits and more family time with their kids, Sadie (Maude Apatow) and Charlotte (Iris Apatow). However, her plan backfires as the new rules only serve to make things worse for this already dysfunctional family. This, along with their financial issues, brings about more problems that they must come to terms with.

Getting right to the heart of the matter, Judd Apatow seems to be a writer/director without restraint whose biggest problem is a dire need to learn the definition of editing, an issue that plagues him from the screenplay stage right through to post-production. He begins by writing what is known as a “kitchen sink draft,” where every little scene he thinks of is included. Then, when most other writers would then do what are called “revisions” to change and/or remove the completely unnecessary portions, Apatow opts to head straight into production.

This leads to every little scene being filmed, which isn’t necessarily bad as some of it could make for interesting deleted scenes on the eventual home release, but the problem is that he fails to take advantage of another stage where he could do some editing in order to remove those completely unnecessary portions from the final cut, which results in all of the material that feels like it should be deleted scenes staying in the film. This, as you can probably guess, results in a very bloated film that is overly-long and awkwardly paced.

How this applies to “This is 40” becomes very apparent as the film drags on and on for its runtime of over two hours. There are several portions of this film that could have easily been cut down or removed entirely in order to help with not only the awkward pacing, but also the plot itself, which is very minimal in the first place, and which gets lost among the excess.

Just to give a few examples, there’s an entire subplot that involves $12,000 missing from Debbie’s store which ends up having little to do with anything. Apatow merely ends up deciding to bring this undeveloped subplot to a close very quickly after having stretched it out with several pointless scenes, having basically used it as an excuse to bring in Megan Fox to play one of the employees.

Another subplot has Sadie being made fun of on her Facebook page by a boy at school, leading Debbie to confront him, and the boy’s mother to confront Pete. This leads to a drawn-out scene where they all meet the principal in order to discuss the problem, but the whole scene ends up being an excuse to try to squeeze out some laughs by having Melissa McCarthy play the boy’s mother. However, the scene, which merely features McCarthy cursing as much as she can, ends up falling completely flat.

Something else Apatow does throughout the film is have the family argue with each other constantly, which includes fights among Pete and Debbie, Sadie and Charlotte, and the kids and parents. It’s rather strange that he tries to hammer home the point that this is a dysfunctional family, especially when the audience realizes this within the first 10-15 minutes of the film.

As for trying to get engaged with the film, it becomes next to impossible given that these are all terrible people. Debbie, Pete, and the kids can’t stop arguing with each other. Debbie’s dad (John Lithgow) abandoned her years ago and hardly ever sees her, while Pete’s dad (Albert Brooks) is merely an annoying mooch. Who exactly are we supposed to be sympathizing with here?

Perhaps an even better question is what was Apatow trying to say with this film? Life continues to be difficult when you’re 40 and have kids? Did he really think it necessary to make a 134-minute film to tell us something that we already know? If he had any deeper message than that, it ends up getting drowned in this mess, but that’s bound to happen when you try to take a premise that might barely support 80 minutes and stretch it well past its breaking point. 1.5/4 stars.