Thirty minutes into the new Judd Apatow helmed comedy This Is 40 I realized what the film was missing -- zombies.
Zombies would have introduced an element of menace to the otherwise enviable lives of the two utterly entitled and completely self-absorbed characters (the supernaturally beautiful Paul Rudd and the equally beautiful Leslie Mann) we were being asked to care about.
I bet zombies would have ruined the outrageously expensive burnished silk drapes that adorn their 20 bedroom home. Zombies would also have introduced an element of real menace and drama.
Instead we simply have to watch Rudd and Mann worry that their long and happy marriage is turning them into zombies. That's not nearly as much fun, I think you'll agree.
Hollywood does this, has been doing this for decades -- it scoffs in the face of the largest economic recession since the war and instead invites us to share in the insubstantial and about to be happily resolved challenges facing gorgeous multi-millionaires. Phew, that was close, we're expected to say.
That's why 30 minutes into This Is 40 I wanted to hurl ripe tomatoes. I wanted to see just one unadorned moment of reality, and failing that I wanted slobbering zombies.
I don't doubt that there are people who live in jaw droppingly gorgeous multimillion dollar homes in places like Bel Air in Southern California. I don't doubt they sometimes experience momentary angst about the direction of their lives. But I'm certain I don't want to spend $10 to see it.
In This Is 40 Rudd drives a top of the line BMW, Mann drives an equally blinged out Lexus. He runs a failing record company and she runs a high end fashion store. They have two perfectly angelic children with pre-Raphaelite hair that is always somehow twisting into salon level braids. Wherever these four go, good lighting and terrific camera angles always follow like magic.
It doesn't help that the Barney's shirts that Rudd wears, or the Opening Ceremony blouses that adorn Mann's willowy body, cost more than most Americans make in a month. This Is 40 should have added (in Bel Air) in brackets to the title. It would have been more truthful.
By completely failing to notice how privileged his characters are, Apatow has failed to notice how little they'll actually resonate.
Which leads us to a short and workmanlike cameo from Irish star Chris O'Dowd, a native of Roscommon who charmed movie-goers last year with his star turn in the hit Bridesmaids.
In the film O’Dowd plays Rudd's vaguely Irish (O'Dowd's accent travels at various moments from Co. Mayo to Rodeo Drive) sidekick. What he really is, though, is completely at sea in a witless script, surrounded by less funny actors and a director who has miscast him because he's popular, not because he's talented.
It's strange to watch a film and want to rescue one of the principals from it, but that was my impulse over O'Dowd. He is asked to create a snarky, mid-level hipster working stiff and that is precisely what he does (with the emphasis on stiff).
I haven't seen O'Dowd this charmless in his entire career. I hope that there are other projects that will rescue him from this ill-fated appearance.
At 40 Mann looks like Ray of Light era Madonna. Which is to say simultaneously spiritual and worked out to within an inch of her life. She has the body fat ratio of a Victorian street urchin. She is about as representative of most women as Minnie Mouse.
I thought Mann was the best thing about This Is 40, but I often wanted to slap the character she plays with a wet trout. How is it possible for a woman or a man to reach that age without recognizing any of her own strengths and weaknesses? Perhaps the answer is, if her character has been written by a man?
Apatow, married to Mann in real life, has been taken to task before by other writers and actors for the supposedly sexist and homophobic elements that have appeared in his previous efforts. To that distinguished list I can now add racist elements.
This Is 40 introduces us to two Asian characters, and both are attempting to fleece the nice white lady of her cash. Both are howlingly objectionable walking caricatures. The impulse to hurl tomatoes became almost overpowering in those risible scenes.
The biggest joke in the film required O'Dowd to grow a mustache, which I must admit looks better on him than you might anticipate. He has to grow the mustache so that the hot chick can ask him what the difference is between a gay mustache and a straight mustache?
Are you ready for the answer? The answer is the smell. Isn't that hilarious? That's the best joke in the film.
At the preview screening I watched the man on his own in front of me convulsed as though it was the funniest thing he had ever heard. But I wanted Apatow to write a letter of apology to GLAAD.
There is never a question that the challenges faced by Rudd and Mann will be resolved with a little Tinseltown glitter and some adult orientated rock and roll, and so it proves. As this pair worked valiantly to save this turkey my attention wandered to the genuinely tasteful interior design of their home. Sketches by John Lennon hung here and there, a quasi David Hockney print makes an appearance.
How strapped could they actually be, I wondered, if Tom Ford himself would have given them a thumbs up for style?
I don't doubt that people who are white and rich and beautiful have problems occasionally. I'm sure even Apatow has occasionally shed a tear. I just wish they had even a dim sense of their connection to the wider world and to the struggling nation instead of just their top drawer zip code.
Wherever Rudd and Mann walk in the film wait staff and high end thread counts follow them like magic. It's annoying to begin with and repulsive by the end.
It depresses me to write that Melissa McCarthy, an Irish American comic genius, also makes an appearance and that she fights valiantly to inject a bit of fun into this leaden, witless fiasco. But all her efforts vanish right in front of her eyes as she's played off against the two charmless, hard to care about leads.
Making the implicit explicit, Apatow has cast his wife and actual children in the roles of Rudd's wife and children. This leads to clued-in audiences asking themselves, is this film fact or is this fiction?
Does Rudd (meaning Apatow) really bail out his endlessly mooching father? Does Mann (meaning Apatow's actual wife) really talk to her daughters like that, or is this a dramatic fantasy?
Is there any reason to give a traveler’s curse about these overprivliged, grass fed organic eating, Pre-Raphealite salon going characters?
The message I got from This Is 40 is that, on balance, Apatow has done very nicely for himself. His film apparently holds a mirror up to his largely incident-less life, and it resolves that he's done rather well.
You can pay $10 to help him out further, or you could perhaps donate it to the local homeless shelter. Decide for yourself which one needs your help more.
Check out the trailer for This is 40: