Where is the heart? My favorite Judd Apatow film is The 40 Year Old Virgin, which is a funny movie that works as well as it does because there is a sweet message nestled alongside the crude jokes.
I am also a big fan of the Apatow-produced television series Freaks and Geeks, which is authentic and also full of heart. Funny People interests me because it seems to break away a bit from some of Apatow’s usual preoccupations, but the more popular movie Knocked Up irritates me as much as it entertains because of an overabundance of shrill women and the men they infantilize.
Sounds harsh? Wait until you hear what I have to say about This is 40.
Who are these people (I know, Apatow’s real life wife and daughters), and why is this billed as a comedy? It’s not that I dislike the movie completely, it’s that I have serious issues with the characters and am glad that the only time I have to spend with them is (an overlong) two hours and fifteen minutes onscreen.
“Pete” and “Debbie” are forty, and she is fighting it. They are self-absorbed but not self-aware, and both of them seem incapable of gratitude for…well…for anything. Supposedly, there is some realization they make near the resolution of the film that changes they have been trying to make in their lives (read between the lines changes that Debbie is trying to impose) don’t actually improve things, and they really do love each other after all.
What? I didn’t see even the most modest of character arcs for anyone (well, okay, for Debbie’s dad maybe), and none of the main characters is any more likeable or even more interesting at the end of the film than at any other point throughout the narrative.
Ostensibly, I should like this film because it is, at its core, an episodic, slice of life picture of the type I generally have a predilection to enjoy, but these characters don’t confront interesting situations or gain important insights or seem to have even the slightest glimmer of intellectual curiosity. The characters are shallow, and that really only works well when there is context that offers a contrast and does so in the service of larger points about humanity.
Oh, and, where is the heart?