Sunday, January 6, 2013

THIS ISN'T 40

I recently watched Judd Apatow’s “This Is 40” during its one-week run at the movie theater in town. At the end, I left feeling relieved to be on my own.

When you have been single for a prolonged period of time as I have, it is easy to romanticize coupledom.  “This Is 40” does the opposite. SPOILER ALERT. Sure Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann’s characters stay together in the end, but I cannot figure out why. I realize there are good times and bad times in a relationship, but it seems to me that the distinction of a lasting relationship is the ability to treat each other with dignity even during the lows. Not so in this movie.

In not one but TWO scenes, Rudd’s character fantasizes about his wife dying. Indeed, the husband and wife exchange their murder fantasies for one another. Yuk yuk,...yuck yuck.

Some may say I lack a sense of humor. Some may wish to remind me that a movie, particularly a Judd Apatow comedy, is not reality. But I’d say Apatow is skilled at making things real—squeamishly so. I did laugh in some places: Paul Rudd’s hemorrhoid check, Leslie Mann’s trip to the dentist, the teenage daughter’s search for something to wear in her closet. Cookie sex also proved adorable. Rudd and Mann played their parts well. But the arguing was excruciating. Hateful putdowns and unlikable fathers did not help matters.

“This Is 40” followed a typical story arc where things have to get really bad two-thirds the way through before they get good again, but the negative interplay went on and on. People around me squirmed and sighed. The gentleman behind me whispered, “When will it stop?” Had 8-10 minutes been slashed from the 133-minute running time (long for a comedy), it would have been a tolerable, perhaps even recommended flick.

By contrast, the following day I watched a favorite movie of mine, one that no one seems to have heard of, “Last Chance Harvey”, starring Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson. Call it “This Is 70/50” if you will. The acting is, of course, magnificent. The script doesn’t try too hard. Things just happen. Both characters are single and struggling. There is an early scene with Hoffman that I find emotionally brutal while Thompson’s character experiences more subtle disappointments. These are sadder characters than in “This Is 40” but “Last Chance Harvey” remains more hopeful. That is why “Last Chance” is an annual viewing treat and “40” stands zero chance of a repeat watch.

Indeed, “Last Chance” made me believe again when “40” gave relationships a brutal flogging.

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