Since the release of The 40-Year-Old Virgin, in which Steve Carell famously had his chest waxed on camera, writer-director Judd Apatow has become synonymous with rumbustious yet touching comedies which explore the foibles of the human condition.
Knocked Up refracted a traditional boy (Seth Rogen) meets girl (Katherine Heigl) scenario through the prism of unexpected parenthood.
Then Funny People reunited a beleaguered stand-up comedian (Adam Sandler) with his estranged family in the shadow of terminal illness.
In This Is 40, Apatow revisits characters from Knocked Up to explore the reality of married life for a middle-aged couple who have lost that loving feeling.
Laughter and tears are weighted heavily in favour of the former with some very funny interludes, including a marijuana-spiked vacation and actor Paul Rudd examining his lower portions in a mirror.
However, the characters’ various emotional crises scream out for resolution well before Apatow decides that he’s had his fill.
Pete (Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) have raised two beautiful daughters, 13-year-old Sadie (Maude Apatow) and eight-year-old Charlotte (Iris Apatow), but are now stuck in a rut.
Sadie is going through a difficult phase, clashing with her parents about her addiction to her favourite television show.
“My relationship with Lost is not your business. It’s credibly personal,” she snaps, eyes glued to her tablet.
“JJ Abrams, he’s ruining our daughter. That geek!” despairs Debbie.
Meanwhile, precocious tyke Charlotte is upset by all of the screaming and shouting in the house.
As Debbie goes into denial about turning 40 in the very same week that Pete celebrates the same milestone, husband and wife re-evaluate their stagnating marriage.
They decide an emotional spring clean is in order, which has dramatic repercussions for Pete’s cash-strapped father (Albert Brooks) and Debbie’s employees (Megan Fox, Charlyne Yi) at her upscale clothing boutique, one of whom is dipping her polished nails into the till.
This Is 40 hopes to recapture the sentimental glory of Knocked Up but lightning doesn’t strike twice, although it’s close.
Rudd and Mann - Apatow’s real-life wife - are an attractive pairing and scenes of them bickering are galvanised by wonderful on-screen chemistry and a sharp script.
Casting Mann’s daughters Iris and Maude adds to the realism of the dysfunctional on-screen family unit.
A scene-stealing cameo from Melissa McCarthy (Bridesmaids) delivers big laughs and Jason Segel and Chris O’Dowd catalyse an amusing rivalry for Fox’s affections.
Regrettably, brevity is not the soul of Apatow’s wit.
Where one snappy scene would suffice, the writer-director opts for protracted navel-gazing until we, like Pete and Debbie, begin to lose faith in the central relationship.
At an exhausting 133 minutes, the film could arguably be re-titled This Is 40 Minutes Too Long.
:: SWEARING :: SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 6/10
Released: February 14 (UK & Ireland), 133 mins