Sunday, January 6, 2013

Film Review: This is 40... (see it)

Hollywood comedies are not usually super feminist-friendly undertakings, with the notable recent exception of the excellent Bridesmaids. Which is why This is 40, starring Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd, came as such an unexpected surprise to me. It's the sort-of sequel to Knocked Up (which was a decidedly un-feminist movie), however the world of This is 40 really has nothing to do with the sad sacks we met in Knocked Up. It explores totally new, refreshing, even possibly sexist stereotype-breaking territory. Here's a full review I liked.

I want to be perfectly clear: this is not some full-on feminist comedy. There are several problems with it, mainly having to do with class and privilege, dissected very nicely here. However, I can't help but feel hopeful about it. I'm taking it as a sign that the American film industry might be making some small progress.

For starters, the depictions of working women in heterosexual relationships in this movie won't piss you off as much as they did in the recent comedy The Five Year Engagement (the one where the guy goes batshit crazy after he gives up his career because his fiancee pursues the job opportunity of her life). I'm sick and tired of countless shows featuring working mothers as these unfortunate, hot messes who can't get it together and who Hurt the Kids because they work outside the home, while the fathers take no responsibility at all. This is 40 offers a welcome reprieve from all of that.

There are many beautiful little things to appreciate about the complications of the extremely privileged LA family headed by Debbie and Pete, a married, dual income couple who are both turning 40. They are something of a paradox: at times so much fun to watch, and at other times the very definition of the word eye roll. At times they are vulnerable and real, and their tenderness gave me hope in my own marriage (don't gag), other times they are total, unmitigated jerks in need of a serious call out -- {SPOILER}

... make sure you stick around for the ending credits to watch comedic genius Melissa McCarthy do just that.

The subtle, pitch-perfect stereotype-bending this movie does sends a unique feminist message. Debbie's a working mom who has not let herself go. She runs her own business, and her family needs her income (more on their financial situation after the jump). She has her own hobbies. She has her own interests. She goes clubbing and in one scene could go to bed with an attractive young professional hockey player if she wanted to. We get to see the imperfectly perfect Debbie in all of her complexity. And she's legitimately, hilariously funny.

Pete is a dad who also works at his own business and actually parents his own kids - I know, what a revolutionary idea. We see him happily handling the kids' morning routine. We see him physically present and engaged at his daughters' school. We see him monitoring his tween daughter's online presence. We see him disagreeing with Debbie about how to best parent their kids. We see them arguing about money. We also see him defending Debbie when another mother threatens her, even though Debbie is Wrong with a capital W. It just felt honest, as in a true version of equally shared parenting many of us aspire to but that is very rarely seen in movies or in life.

I also loved the fact that both Debbie and Pete suffer from daddy issues from their own families of origin, and that those issues are explored and compared. How wonderful to see depictions of family dysfunction that are not mother-blaming for a change.

One interesting criticism I'm hearing everywhere has to do with Debbie and Pete's imagined financial situation. They are so "rich" in the sense they conspicuously consume: they live in a fabulous mansion with a backyard pool, throw lavish parties, dress and decorate with style, have a personal trainer, an expensive bike, they vacation at a fancy resort, and their children have all matter of electronic gadgets.

But they've missed a mortgage payment. Their accountant says they're beyond help and now they need to sell the house - primarily because Pete has poor judgment both personally with his father and because he has been running his business into the ground (the $30k indoor neon sign was a spot-on example). They suddenly find they need that $12k someone has stolen from Debbie's business. They need back the $80k Pete loaned to his mooching father without Debbie's permission. So the criticism is: that these rich, overprivileged people honestly feel like they are strapped for cash seems laughable. Wrong. Not at all. It's an economic fact these days. Hello, ever hear of the Overspent American phenomenon? Loads of people look rich while having a negative net worth and zero cash flow (See The Millionaire Next Door). Yours truly even blogged about that recently, when my rich friend confessed to me she could not afford a cup of coffee. So I find their economic situation 100% believable.

That's the thing about this movie. It makes you ask: can this be real? It made me reflect, and made me laugh so hard I had trouble breathing. It encouraged DH and I to have a great conversation about aging, the way we parent, the way we problem-solve in our own marriage. See it. It's not perfect, and you'll cringe at a few things, but see it anyway.


Raina Cox said...

May I say I love that you write the most thoughtful, smart posts.

And this movie is on my To-see list.

NoTrustFund said...

Ok, I only read down to to SPOILER, but...thank you for posting this review. I had this on my 'want to see' list, but now I really want to see it. Now I just need to actually find time to make it to a movie theater. Or wait a few months for netflix.

oilandgarlic said...

Now you've made me want to see this movie. I have seen some Apatow films and find them funny, in general, but am not a huge fan of his. I always notice non-feminist aspects of movies, which don't necessarily stop me from enjoying them, but films that try to be different or just have a different perspective AND are funny (like Bridesmaids) are defintely a breath of fresh air.

Anonymous said...

I'm a new reader/fan, and surprised you liked Bridesmaids. Not that I've seen it, I haven't. When it was released someone referred to it as the Hangover for women, and I crossed it of my list. I'm not a spammer, swear, but here's another smart woman's opinion. Maybe I'll have to see for myself after all.