Last month, my best friend and I, both one foot in 30, went to see Apatow’s latest movie, This Is 40. We had different reactions to the movie, naturally, since we were coming to it from different places; but we agreed on one thing that Appatow seems to do: he likes to keep it real.
Every movie Apatow is involved in seems to be on this side of campy. It’s not too real that it’s boring, but it’s not too campy that it seems false. Pete and Debbie aren’t a perfect, happy couple, but they love each other and their girls and they are doing what they need to do in order to keep their family happy, healthy, well-adjusted, fed, and clothed. Their fights, often ridiculous, are the fights that actual people would have; and when Pete and Debbie seem to forget a fight and have a similar one a few scenes later, it’s only natural — they have more things going on in their lives than to remember every single little thing that is bugging them.
And they must be doing something right based on their kids. Sadie is the typical, average, smart, pretty teenager who bounces between hating everything and everyone and being the happiest person in the world; and Charlotte is adorable and happy and wants everyone else to be happy too. If Pete and Debbie were really a truly screwed up couple those girls would not be as well-adjusted as they are.
Knowing now that Apatow is basing so much on his actual life and marriage, pulling from actual fights he and Mann have had, is pretty amazing. (Also: knowing that Mann will leave him on the side of the road is pretty fantastic.) This Is 40 can be seen as just a bunch of crude jokes and awkward fights strung together with a skosh of meaning and depth thrown in, but knowing where these awkward fights have come from makes it so much more: it’s someone’s attempt to work out his life. It’s the same as Philip Pullman writing His Dark Materials in order to sort out his own views of organized religion, or Frida Kahlo painting her view of the world, and Alanis Morissette expressing her anger, hurt, betrayal and eventual acceptance and growth through Jagged Little Pill. Judd Apatow and Leslie Mann are using movies to express themselves and talk about life, marriage, parenthood, getting older, and staying together.