It’s hard to slap a two sentence logline on Judd Apatow’s This is 40. Rather than being about a specific crisis or conflict, the style is instead more free flowing, the film working to encapsulate what it means to be 40 years old with a family in the modern world. And that’s no accident: Apatow wants you to feel what it’s like to spend a week in the life with his characters.
Last week I had the pleasure of sitting down with the writer/director to not only talk about the looser structure of his latest film, but also his sources for inspiration, the maturity of his work over the course of his career, how his projects are motivated by the group of actors he regularly works with, and his desire to write a play. Check it out!
With the films you’ve directed there seems to be pattern of growing maturity, both in the sense of characters and relationships, going back to your work on TV and your films. Is that something you’ve seen in your work as well?
Well, I think I’m writing about different phases of life, and I’m writing about people with different levels of maturity…
But there’s no specific order to it?
You know, who’s mature, who’s immature, I think I’m getting more confidence to attack the work from different angles, to have the courage to not worry as much about likability or how funny it is in every specific moment. So this is a tone I like where it’s realistic, but I’m still trying to make it funny as well as dramatic, which is probably something I would have been too scared to do first thing out of the gate. So the early 40 Year Old Virgin… while also a personal movie to me and Steve, I thought, “Well, I have to make the scenes insanely funny or I’m never going to work again.” [laughs] And then I thought, “What can I do that would make this be about something?” and I would talk to Garry Shandling about it and he would say, “Well, I think the movie is about how sex is better when you’re in love” and in the end he has better sex than all his friends [laughs]. But, you know, Paul Rudd’s character is different than Seth Rogen’s character, he’s a young guy who is trying to enjoy is free, wild years when suddenly he gets someone pregnant and is forced to end that immediately. Paul Rudd is 15 years down the line. He is playing the same guy from Knocked Up… I don’t know if you remember the scene where they were watching the kids play with bubbles, and Paul Rudd is like…
“I wish I could be that fascinated by bubbles”
[laughs] They would talk about, “I wish I was that happy…” I don’t know who says what [laughs] but that is what This is 40 is about. How do you make your life work better? How do you appreciate it more? You do reach a moment in your life when you take stock and think, “Alright, this is my family, this is my job, this is what it turned into.” It’s not ever going to be that much different. I’m not suddenly going to be asked to be the Secretary of Defense, I’m not going to become an athlete – I’m this guy with this family, and I think a lot of people are under pressure to just do it all correctly, and no one can so we all feel like we’re spinning plates and they’re just dropping everywhere. Because it’s hard to be a good husband and a good parent and be on top of your health, and to make sure your job is working, and take care of your extended family, and dealing with the technology and all the media… there’s just not enough hours in the day, really. So the idea for this was what if I showed a week where a family had a nervous breakdown [laughs].