Saturday, December 22, 2012

This is 40 [2012]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (O)  Michael Phillips (2 1/2 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB review
Michael Phillips' review

I came to the (as it turns out) appropriately R-rated comedy This is 40 (written and directed by Judd Apatow) skeptically and with rather low expectations.  The advertising for the film claimed that it was the "sort of sequel" to Knocked Up [2007].  So far so good, except for the almost "epic" level of drug use by the slacker Seth Rogan character in that film (neither he nor Katherine Heigl's character appear in this one), I generally liked Knocked Up.  (This film is about Katherine Heigl's character's sister, Debbie (played by Leslie Mann) and her family ...).  But I did not like the advertising's claim that this story was not only "their story" -- Debbie's and her husband Pete's (played by Paul Rudd) -- but "everybody's story."  Really?

One criticism already made by the film since its release is that there's not a single black person (or Hispanic) in it, this despite being set in LOS ANGELES...  As obvious as this failing is once one thinks about it, I have to admit that this time I honestly missed this (though those reading my blog would know that I repeatedly point failings like this out, and note it now).

Instead, this time around, my bigger question coming into the film regarded class rather than race because it was more or less obvious to me that Debbie and Pete were living a rather upper middle class lifestyle and hence their preoccupation with "turning 40" seemed to have a positively "petit bourgeoisie" feel to it that I suspect would be irritating to a Family Guy / Everybody Loves Raymond audience.  Thankfully, one of the funniest characters in the film, small as her role may have been, was that played by Melissa McCarthy who plays "Catherine" a more bluecollarish working mom who lets Debbie and Pete "have it" at a conference with the children's school principal after an altercation between Debbie and Catherine's bucktoothed "Tom Petty looking" son.  Catherine's complaints become so over the top that she doesn't stand a chance against the more wily/devious Debbie and Pete, but at least Catherine's voice (and that of an entire class of people behind her) is, indeed, given a chance to be heard.

Finally, both of the reviews in the local Chicago papers that I had read prior to seeing the film expressed concerns about Debbie and Pete's arguments.  One reviewer noted that the arguments were at times so vicious that one was left wishing at some point that the two "just get divorced" (and indeed "for the sake of the children.")  Having seen the movie now, I don't believe that the arguing is as bad as that.  (If you want some real world-class family squabbling, go rent a contemporary East European film (all subtitled) like Poupata (Czech), Dom (Slovak), Chrzest (Polish) or Elena (Russian) (I'm of Czech descent BTW...) where family dynamics are also playing a major role in their films and where the problems/arguments are often much darker/more desperate).  In the case of the current film, This is 40, one is simply compelled to note (and to warn Readers) that like many American comedies these days, there's more to this film than simply "laughs."  There are some rather painful issues being surfaced amidst those laughs, issues that are not all that easy to confront directly (except perhaps with a somewhat nervous smile/laugh).  These include American families' increasing difficulty to maintain the life-style that they had been accustomed to and difficult to resolve issues with one's own parents / families of origin.

So many/most audience members will probably wince at times during this film -- and perhaps start to see why the film makers made the claim that the film is not just Debbie and Pete's story but "everybody's story."  In the couple's arguments as well as their coping with a world of  "ipods" and "facebook" rather than "tree houses" and "LPs" the couple's story becomes probably similar to most of our stories (at least for us "over 40").

So then, how did the film do?  I left the film feeling that it was much better than I expected.  Again, it's not really a comedy, though it does have many very funny moments.  Still I am happy that it was made and despite its rather pristine whiteness and upper-middle-class starting point, I do think that most adult American viewers will understand.

A final note to Parents:  I do believe the film is appropriately rated-R.  It is rather crude at times and contains scenes that would make many/most contemporary American parents wince.  For instance, there is a rather gratuitous scene in the film in which the audience gets to see (from the back) Debbie giving her husband a ... Was it necessary to the plot?  No.  And I'm pretty certain that most parents would probably find the scene wildly inappropriate for their teens.

That said, this would not be a bad film for adults and families with adult/grown children confronting some rather difficult issues to see.

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