This is 40 could possibly be seen as a cautionary tale about bicycle riding on San Vicente Boulevard in Los Angeles…and a peek inside Judd Apatow‘s inside-joke rivalry with JJ Abrams.

In Apatow’s fourth film as a director, Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann reprise their roles from 2007′s Knocked Up, Pete and Debbie, and together, they have to deal with their eldest daughter’s obsession with Lost. Early on, we see Sadie (Apatow and Mann’s real-life daughter Maude) glued to her iPad, binging on episodes of J.J. Abrams’s cult cryptodrama. It then becomes a great excuse for the family to wane themselves off technology throughout the movie, but it’s easier said than done. “J.J. Abrams is ruining our daughter’s life!” exclaims Debbie in one of the film’s many hysterical scenes. “I hate that fucking nerd!”

While sitting in a room at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills with the cast and director of This is 40, I had to ask the talented Mr. Apatow if he indeed has any beef with the equally talented Mr. Abrams.

He explains: “Our daughter watched Lost in about six weeks and was crying a lot, very emotional, and we thought, ‘Are we bad parents for allowing this?’ We’re too lazy to keep up with her to know what the next episode is, like if it’s inappropriate, so we kind of just let it happen. And we realized there was some bad parenting happening, and it was out of control. And I thought: I don’t know what to really do here, but it probably makes for some really good jokes in the movie. That’s what I usually do when I should make a strong parenting decision. I kind of let it play out to see if a joke results from it [laughs]. Probably not a good idea. But J.J. read the script and came to previews, and I made sure to show everybody the footage and how we were doing it to make sure he was happy…But he is a geek who has ruined our lives.”

Lost is just one of the many catalysts wreaking idiosyncratic havoc in This is 40. Pete and Debbie are a Californian couple adjusting to the universal phenomenon known as Getting Old. With its organic dialogue (some improvised), sparkling performances and chemistry between Paul Rudd and Leslie Madd, 40 aims to place itself in the Hall of Apatow Classics. There’s also the requisite line-up of the familiar, comedic faces from the Apatow universe — who never let down.

One of those faces is career scene stealer Melissa McCarthy, who plays a mom who rips into our couple in crisis during a memorable scene inside a principal’s office. Needless to say, during shooting, no one could keep a straight face.

“That was impossible,” recalls Mann. “It was the weirdest thing to experience that. Maybe one time I’ll crack up and then hold it together, but it was hours of not keeping a straight face…she’s just the funniest person.”

Rudd agrees: “I’ve seen people on tears, but that was otherworldly. I saw people leaving the room. Crew had to leave. And she just kept her composure through all of it.”

Then there’s the obvious question regarding that titular age. Each one of the featured players have all faced 40 at some point in their lives…except for Megan Fox, of course — she jokingly prides herself on being a “trophy wife” for her husband, Brian Austin Green, who happens to be 13 years her senior (she plays Desi in the film, a hardbodied employee at Debbie’s struggling clothing store). But as for Apatow, Rudd, Mann, and Albert Brooks, who appears as Pete’s downtrodden dad, 40 means different things for each of them.

Judd handled turning 40 the best way he knew how: “I overcame it by making two movies with the number 40 in the title.” (the first being 2005′s The 40-Year-Old Virgin, natch).

Leslie Mann, Apatow’s real-life wife, tries to remember her big birthday, which happened earlier this year: “I think every day is different. Some days I feel fine, and other days I feel like crying all day. I have lunches with my girlfriends who just turned 40, and some of those lunches were crying and screaming about our husbands, saying we want to leave them and run away. Other lunches are fine, we’re happy with our husbands and happy with our lives.”

“I’m not going to let you out for lunch anymore,” Apatow pipes in.

Albert Brooks had a totally different way of approaching the age. “When I was very young, I started to make friends with much, much older people,” he says. “So when I was 20, my friends were 50, so I never really went through 40 because I would watch them die, and I’d always feel younger. So, you make friends with older people, and you always feel younger, no matter what.” Interesting advice.

“When I turned 40,” he remembers, “I was in a hospice with a 92-year-old buddy.” He pauses as he looks around the room for sympathetic reactions. “That’s a lie.”

Rudd turned to some words of wisdom his father had shared with him: “I remember as a kid my dad telling me ‘Getting older beats the alternative.’ Although my father is now the alternative [being dead]. So I don’t know what he would say.”

If this is 40, then I look forward to it (in 7 years and 3 months, to be exact).

- Hiko Mitsuzuka @TheFirstEcho

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