Once upon a time at The Awards Circuit (and even before then when we were still called The Oscar Igloo) we put out Script Reviews on a decently consistent basis. Things have slowed down a lot in that regard over the last year or two, but I’m back again this season with a few planned, including Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Django Unchained’ and this one here for Judd Apatow’s sort-of sequel ‘This is 40’. A spinoff of sorts from ‘Knocked Up’, this could be one of the only comedies with a shot at awards consideration this year. Does it actually have a chance? Having read the script, I’d say yes, mainly in terms of the screenplay itself, which is very strong and moves the filmmaker into some new and fertile ground. Granted, I was wrong about ‘Funny People’ a few years ago, but this should have a much more solid appeal to audiences and voters alike, which bodes well for the flick. Apatow has found a happy medium between the broader comedy of his first two directorial outings and mostly drama with awkward comedy that so many people took issue with the last time around. I haven’t disliked a film of his yet, and judging by this script, he’s going to be 4 for 4 in my book this December.
The film follows the characters of Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) from ‘Knocked Up’. As things begin, they’re both approaching their 40th birthdays. Pete, now the head of his own music label, doesn’t seem to mind much, but clothing store owner Debbie isn’t thrilled and wants to turn back the clock in any way possible. Everything around them is getting stressful, from their money problems to all the technology around them, to their problematic relationships with their fathers, to the fact that their daughters Charlotte and Sadie are growing up, with the latter now knee deep in puberty. Thus begins a period where Pete and Debbie both fight like they’ve never fought before as well as really take stock of their lives in a new way. The script doesn’t have too heavy a plot, mostly setting up their lives in the time since we last left them and seeing how things evolve from there. Apatow is making a movie that has perhaps more in common with the higher level works of James L. Brooks than the raunchy comedies that have been his forte. There’s lots of humor here, much of it similar to what’s worked best for him before, but it seems like he’s hit on the right tone for the drama in a way that could spell success for him.
Obviously, Paul Rudd’s Pete and Leslie Mann’s Debbie are back and elevated to starring roles here. Their characters are similar, but more well formed and deeper than last time. You spend more time finding out what’s in their heads and why they’re doing the things that they do than in ‘Knocked Up’. As for the other characters who return, Iris and Maude Apatow are again playing the kids, who this time are full on supporting players with their own issues to deal with, Jason Segel’s character Jason is back as a trainer and life coach of sorts to Debbie, Charlyne Yi again plays Jodi, and gynecologist Dr. Pellegrino is again portrayed by Tim Bagley. There’s a mention of Seth Rogen’s Ben in terms of him still being around, but you never see him and Katherine Heigl’s Alison isn’t even spoken of once. The new cast members include a potentially scene stealing role for Albert Brooks as Pete’s dad Larry, Megan Fox as Desi, an employee who could be stealing from Debbie, and John Lithgow as Debbie’s father. We’ll also see the likes of Chris O’Dowd, Lena Dunham, Melissa McCarthy, Robert Smigel, and Ryan Lee, though the focus will obviously be on Rudd and Mann.
In terms of where this could fit into the awards race, I think if everyone is in top form there could be a push for a Best Picture nomination, though I ultimately think that it could be in vein. The best chance for an acting nod would be Albert Brooks for his memorable supporting turn, and the best overall chance at a nomination would be for Judd Apatow’s screenplay, though competing in Best Adapted Screenplay could hurt him a bit. A real X factor is the Original Song by Fiona Apple that’s going to be in the film, but since it’s not in the script I can’t speak to its chances. The screenplay is filled with musical references though, so that could be something to take note of. Universal is obviously thinking that ‘This is 40’ has a chance at some nominations, since they’re pushing it in just about every single category. Their FYC site lists Best Picture, Best Director for Judd Apatow, Best Actor for Paul Rudd, Best Actress for Leslie Mann, Best Supporting Actor for both Albert Brooks and John Lithgow, Best Supporting Actress for Iris Apatow, Maude Apatow, Megan Fox, and Melissa McCarthy, Best Adapted Screenplay for Apatow, along with a whole host of hopeful tech nods like Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Original Song. I’d say that almost none of these will happen, but you never know…
What might make this a memorable flick is the fact that Apatow is tackling issues that are easily identifiable and potentially very relatable for Academy members. There’s a lot of awkward humor as well as awkward drama, but it’s all presented in a realistic way that speaks to how universal the story of Pete and Debbie is. In some ways this is Apatow’s best script yet. It’s not as consistently hilarious as some of his other works, but it’s his most personal one and the characters are really interesting.
Some of the highlights of the script include just about anything Albert Brooks as Larry says, the interactions between Pete and Debbie in their happier moments, and the first half of the story, which is just very observational. If there’s a flaw, it’s that one or two moments feel recycled from some of Apatow’s earlier works, but that could also be intentional. It’s never too silly or too serious, but it’s very much veering towards the dramedy as opposed to being a laugh riot. I like what he’s doing here, it’s just a question of if other people will as well.
I found the ‘This is 40’ script to be very well done and am not about to remove it from my Oscar predictions. Yes, I’m going out on a slight limb here, but I really enjoyed it and think that the Academy could actually find it to their liking. Time will ultimately tell, but hopefully this Script Review has prepared you somewhat for Judd Apatow’s latest project!
–Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!