Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann are married with children in This is 40

by Mark Burger

Given that writer/ producer/director Judd Apatow’s latest film stars his real-life wife Leslie Mann and their daughters Iris and Maude, he might be accused of nepotism. But the real problem with Life at 40 (**) is the filmmaker’s self-indulgence. One of the major problems of this comedy, which  runs 135 minutes, is that it runs at least 40 minutes too long.

Paul Rudd and Mann reprise their roles as husband and wife Pete and Debbie from Apatow’s 2009 box-office hit Knocked Up. In that, they were essentially comic relief in supporting roles. They were funny in the background, but here at center stage, their neurotic characters sometimes become shrill and irritating.

As the title implies, Pete and Debbie are confronting middle age. Both are about to turn 40, which cues a comedic mid-life crisis in each. Of course, there’s nothing that indicates they won’t live happily ever after — which, indeed, they do. There are some funny and incisive moments along the way, as well as a lot (too many) of throwaway gags and unnecessary subplots that tend to interrupt the film’s already-shaky narrative.

Given that Pete and Debbie are so worried about their finances, despite living in a very nice house in southern California, it almost seems irresponsible that they would impetuously embark on a weekend getaway where their main concern is whether or not to order the entire roomservice menu. (They’re not staying at a Motel 6, that’s for sure.)

Appropriately, the climactic birthday party is the highlight of the film, but it takes forever to get there. Audiences simply may not care by that point.

This is 40 is a disappointment but it’s not a total loss. Albert Brooks is terrific as Paul’s perennially cash-strapped dad, and the always welcome John Lithgow does a lot with a little as Debbie’s estranged father. Iris and Maude Apatow are effective as the kids, whose problems — like Mom and Dad’s — will evaporate come the fade-out.

Others who drift in and out of the story’s orbit are Megan Fox, Jason Segel, Robert Smigel, Melissa McCarthy, Tatum O’Neal, the inescapable Lena Denham and the ever-annoying Charlyne Yi — many of whom have appeared in previous Apatow projects. As Pete is a music producer, such luminaries as Graham Parker, Ryan Adams and Billie Joe Armstrong turn up as themselves. Most of them have little to do, maybe because they’re not immediate family members?

Through no fault of her own, The Guilt Trip (*) is probably Barbra Streisand’s worst movie. It’s also probably Seth Rogen’s worst. Neither Anne Fletcher’s uninspired direction or Dan Fogelman’s cut-rate screenplay would pass muster as sitcom pilot. Every holiday season there’s at least one film that suggests the proverbial lump of coal in the Christmas stocking, and this year it’s The Guilt Trip.

For reasons both flimsy and not worth getting into, struggling inventor Andy Brewster asks his long-widowed mother Joyce to accompany him on a crosscountry trip to shill the environmentally safe cleanser he’s developed. So off they go, gaining a better understanding of each other along the way. Ho-hum. No surprises here — at all.

Brett Cullen, Kathy Najimy, Miriam Margolyes, Yvonne Strahovski, Nora Dunn, Jeff Kober and Colin Hanks enter and exit the proceedings so quickly that one wonders why they bothered. After all, the film scarcely bothers with them.

The film runs out of gas long before Joyce and Andy hit the road in their rental car, trotting out a loose string of predictable jokes and gags. Joyce is an overly attentive mother, which causes Andy to bristle at times. Beyond that, the two characters hardly appear to know each other. Rogen’s impatience throughout seems less a result of the character as scripted than of dissatisfaction with the script itself. Had he and Streisand simply chucked the text and improvised, it seems entirely likely that it would have been an improvement. The Guilt Trip is a bad trip.

LOG ONTO — click on the “Flicks” section. Then go to “What’s Showing”