Wednesday, January 16, 2013

This Is 40 and The Beauty of Bad Reviews

There is nothing better than going into a movie (or maybe anything for that matter) with low to no expectations.  Worst case scenario:  you walk in knowing what you're getting out of it, not much more than a popcorn butter stain on your shirt and two hours of your life you can never get back.  Best case scenario:  you walk in thinking it's going to be a stinkfest, and walk out enjoying (or even better yet, loving) the film, and yes, you still get to have the popcorn butter stains.  Judd Apatow's new film, This Is 40 does just that as we follow Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) just a few years removed from their shenanigans in Knocked Up 

All of the reviews I read for This Is 40 were simply awful.  One in particular was terrible, almost vengeful.  Granted it's not from the New York Times or Roger Ebert, though their reviews weren't glowing either, but Gawker writer Rich Juzwiak blasted it for not only being bad, not being funny, being too long but also for making marriage look abysmal, stating:

"Why are we watching them? So that we can then see a sad-music montage of each sad member of the family alone and staring at things sadly? Because that's what we get."   

Actually, that's not what we get.  

Mr. Juzwiak must have walked out to take a piss and walked back into Les Miserables.  Hugh Jackson vs. Paul Rudd, near bald Anne Hathaway vs. Leslie Mann, depressing period drama vs. modern comedy, tomato vs understandable mistake anyone could have made.   

However, the beauty of bad movie reviews (lemons, prepare to become a delicious drink) is that they sap our expectations, yet we often go against their recommendations.  Not like bad restaurant reviews, where you are more apt to follow the advice of the columnist.  Who wants to go to a restaurant if the review is something like this:  "The host was awful.  The server didn't know her ass from a hole in the ground.  The food made me want to abstain from eating for the rest of my life.  And what the hell is donkey sauce?".  Unless you know the chef or are familiar with a restaurateur's track record, why go eat potentially awful food when there is so much good food?  Why take that chance?  But movies are different.  

The boys were in backup daycare, I had just left the dentist and I didn't feel like doing laundry, dishes or cleaning the house.  That, and I have a minor man crush on Paul Rudd.  How can you blame me? when he single handedly made watching Christmas commercials enjoyable.

Beyond employing his own wife and kids in his films, Judd Apatow has also done a great job of writing and directing easily relatable movies and he continues that stretch here with This Is 40.  At its heart, This Is 40 is a romcom (romantic comedy, for you unitiated or non-whipped).  We are thrown right back into the tit-for-tat, backhandedness, yet loving relationship of Pete and Debbie that we fell in love with in Knocked Up.  We catch them in some great moments such as when Pete tells Debbie during some birthday morning shower sex that he had popped a viagra to step up his game, but Debbie finds it disheartening to which she says:  "I don't want a turbo penis. I like your medium soft one".  While Pete's response is that:  "My hard-ons are still in analog.  Viagra makes it digital".  And I'm not giving away the only funny bits.  There are a bunch of great scenes/great lines between Rudd and Mann, who have such great on-screen chemistry, and that's part of what I am buying into.  They have fights over mundane shit (so do me and the Mrs).  They have even bigger fights over the tough stuff (so do me and the Mrs).  How can you not root for these people?  If you are married and have kids, you know what they are going through.       

At the same time, we see them trying to raise their kids and carefully navigate the troubles of sibling rivalry as well as teenage angst.  Towards the latter, Sadie, the older daughter, is in her early teens and dealing with understanding/fighting her parents (while appearing to be a firecracker like Debbie) and being too cool for her younger sister, Charlotte.  Charlotte is adorably naive, lighthearted and funny (clearly taking on more of Pete's traits).  After watching the last episode of Lost with Sadie and Debbie's father, she casually says:  "I'm going to have some freaky ass nightmares".  And to all of you Lost fans, you know she is right. 

On top of that, the supporting cast is great, minus Megan Fox and her frightening midget thumbs.  I'm sorry but those things are awful, and I have a bunion on my foot so I am familiar with disfigured appendages.  Pete's album promotor, Ronnie (played by Chris O'Dowd) coupled with Debbie's trainer, Jason (played by Jason Segel) are brilliant together, yet seldom used in the film.  Pete's dad in the film (played by Albert Brooks), is chummy and abrasive at the same time while Oliver, Debbie's father (played by John Lithgow) almost seems to be be one of the few forced characters.  Though the real gem, expectedly, is Catherine, one of Sadie's schoolmate's mom (played by Melissa McCarthy) who is forced to meet with the school principal, Pete and Debbie over an altercation between Debbie and her son.  The scene is pure magic (and stick around for the credits as you'll get the scene unedited, which was hard to believe, but hysterical to watch).

At the end of the day, Pete and Debbie get it figured out (SPOILER ALERT).  So there is a happy ending, because in the end marriage and kids screws with your head.  You are forced to lose the "me" in all of the "us".  You sometimes try to hide things in order to make things seem better, in the hopes that they will.  Your spouse should be the yin to your yang, and as much as that will bring balance it will also bring headaches.  You try to be the best parent you can be, and you're going to have your off days (lots of them).  You try to take care of your parents and mend what gaps may be there, because we only get one set of parents.  Sometimes you laugh so hard it hurts and sometimes you simply lose control and go ape shit.  

I don't know about you, but I love to watch movies where I feel I could more or less squeeze right into a scene and pick up on cue because I am living it or have lived it (clearly not because I am in any way an actor).  I love shows like Up All Night (though the new season sucks), because it makes me feel less crazy.  Maybe that's true or maybe that's the magic of Hollywood.  Either way, I'm all in.  I'm not 40 yet, I'm 34.  But I can only hope to be like this when the Mrs and I are 40, because it's in the stupid, personal, sometimes morbidly comedic instances like this that you re-realize why you do all the crap you do and why you put up with all of the bullshit, because this is the good life:


As for Mr Juzwiak's (how the hell do you pronounce that?) review, while completely off the mark, also comes off as someone who is terrified on some level of the death of cool (also known as becoming a parent and surviving, yes, surviving a life long marriage).  But for his awful review, I have to say thank you.  Though I probably would have seen it eventually anyway, I would have likely walked in with higher expectations.  Since Mr Juzwiak hacked my presumptions about this, I came in looking to kill a couple of hours and walked out having enjoyed my time and eating a whole box of pretzel M&M's.  Not a bad afternoon.   

*photo credit:        

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