Watching a movie you hate is a funny thing. You’re sitting there, almost in shock of what’s happening. You debate leaving the theater, but can’t stop to take your eyes off the train wreck. You fool yourself with possible hints of redemption, and then anxiously try to laugh it off when the film let’s you down yet again. And then, at some point, you try to retrace your steps and figure out where it all went wrong.
I say “you” but I mean me, because what I’ve just described are only a handful of the feelings that moved through me as I watched Judd Apatow’s new, impossibly frustrating, hopelessly revolting film This is 40.
I’m not quite sure how to best make my case here, but I suppose the film’s comedy (or complete and utter lack thereof) is a good place to start. This is 40 is not funny. It certainly tries to be, and thinks it is, but the only laughs I had (and everyone else in my theater) were the anxious ones I described earlier. I feel no need to harp on this issue or slam my point home: the film simply is not funny, but, to its credit, it doesn’t continuously try to be, either. Many of the film’s scenes are extended arguments between Pete and Debbie, and, for the most part, they are written and played out well. That is, until the material seriously lets the actors down, and a realistic domestic disturbance turns into a crude, last ditch attempt at humor to help break whatever believable tension has been built. The comedy of this film is nonexistent, and the drama consistently fails.
If that were all, then we’d have a pretty shitty film on our hands. But sadly there is more. Specifically a handful of scenes that I simply cannot ignore and will do my best to present succinctly.
At some point in the movie, Pete and Debbie are reading the Facebook messages their oldest daughter, Sadie (who is 13) has been sending and receiving from a boy (who is also 13, or younger) in her class. The messages basically end with the boy calling Sadie a bitch (which, for the record, is presented like “Yo, leave me alone biatch,” as opposed to something harsher, but anyway). Later in the film, Debbie runs into that boy at Sadie’s school, and ends up telling him, in private, that if he messes with Sadie again, Debbie will find him and “fuck him up.” The boy flees, terrified and crying. Later, Pete runs into the boy’s mother, Catherine (played by Melissa McCarthy) and Pete eventually tells her that if the boy comes around again, Pete will “hit him with my car.” (The boy hears all of this, by the way.)
The utterance of these phrases is a criminal offense. Period. Yes, I’m well aware that Judd Apatow wrote, directed and released his film before everyone in the world was aware of Newtown, Connecticut for the worst reason possible. But it’s still appalling behavior, especially when it is for comedic purposes. To top off the matter, Catherine, Pete and Debbie are soon brought into the principal’s office to resolve the issue. Catherine states her case by telling the truth, that both Pete and Debbie physically threatened her child and should be punished (perhaps criminally). Pete and Debbie lie their way out of it, pitting Catherine as a compulsive liar and slob. The way the scene plays out is easily one of the most offensive movie scenes I have ever witnessed. Basically, because Catherine is overweight and crass, the principal ends up taking Pete and Debbie’s side. Yes, Catherine’s weight is mentioned specifically. Yes, her foul language is as well. But holy shit, what is Apatow saying here? Hey parents, it’s okay to threaten the life of a little kid, as long as you blame it on the fat woman? Are you fucking kidding me?
Now, as of late, there has been a lot of talk concerning overtly negative movie criticism among my circle of digital friends. Many think that the oft harshness toward contemporary films on blogs and Twitter is extreme and unnecessary. And I’ll admit, there have been a few times that I have relentlessly and rather pointlessly thrashed a movie on this blog. No, I did not like those films at all, but perhaps I took my negativity a little too far, which isn’t fair to my readers, or the film. That’s something I’ve gotten better about over this past year. But, on the flipside, if I know I want to review a film, then I’m going to review that film. And fair is fair and I think I’m damn fair. Later this afternoon, I’m going to see the Naomi Watts-starring The Impossible, and if I think it’s a masterpiece, I’ll say so. But if I think it’s exploitative, sentimental trash, I’ll say that too. I love Tarantino, but if I find Django Unchained to be discriminatory and ridiculous, then I’ll tell you, and I’ll tell you fairly.
My point is, I had nothing against This is 40. No preconceived notions, no hopes, no fears – no nothing. I was just a guy looking to take his girlfriend on a movie date. And I honestly think I’ve been fair in this review. I’ve hammered home my distaste for the film, but hopefully not to the point of desensitization. Because the fact remains, This is 40 is one of the most worthless, vile, and idiotic films I have seen in many years. Do I think Apatow was intentional in his offensiveness? No, I do not. Do I think he’s a filmmaker who needs a serious career reexamination? Yes, I do. I know it’s the time of year for giving and it’d probably be a little more polite to be all holly jolly and cut the film a little slack, but, come to think of it, that just wouldn’t be fair. F