Any filmmaker who casts his wife and children in central roles is inviting autobiographical readings, though one hopes Judd Apatow’s family life is less tumultuous than the one in This Is 40. Billed as a ‘sort-of sequel’ to his Knocked Up, this scattered but ambitious comedy from the writer-director-producer plays more like a spin-off, focusing on the supporting characters of that 2007 smash. No more financially or emotionally stable than they were five years earlier, bickering spouses Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Mrs Apatow herself, Leslie Mann) navigate the rocky terrain of marriage, parenthood and middle age. The kids are played by the filmmaker’s own brood (14-year-old Maude and ten-year-old Iris), who have grown into confident child actors.
For all its broad comic bits – Pete faking bowel movements to sneak off for alone time, Debbie confronting a teenage boy who’s been harassing her daughter – the film demonstrates a shrewd understanding of the cycles of fighting and reconciliation that plague long-term relationships. What Apatow hasn’t outgrown, alas, is his tendency to overstuff every movie with superfluous bit players.