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Wednesday, October 1, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 64.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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This Is 40 is funny but desperately needs an editor
Midlife mess
on
Bring on the bickering.
Bring on the bickering.

I have a dream that, one of these days, Judd Apatow is going to make a 100-minute comedy so packed with hilarity that I'm not going to be able to breathe from the laughing. Luckily for my windpipe, this hasn't happened yet.

From The 40 Year Old Virgin to Knocked Up to Funny People, Apatow knows how to deliver laughs. The thing is, he doesn't understand the concept of less is more. His characters' conversations just keep going, and his movies' running times just keep growing, with the 146-minute Funny People extending into Lord of the Rings territory.

Apatow's latest movie, This Is 40, is funny as usual but pretty hard to digest. He spins off a larger tale from Knocked Up supporting characters Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann), a married couple heading into the week when they'll both turn 40. They're dealing with the stuff so many couples deal with at this age: adolescent kids and the drama that comes with them, financial uncertainties, sexual insecurities, physical deterioration.

Though this is familiar ground for domestic comedies, Apatow succeeds in building several brilliantly funny sequences. Debbie unleashes her fury on the Facebook bully who's picking on her oldest daughter, Sadie (Apatow and Mann's daughter, Maude Apatow), causing an epic confrontation between the traumatized kid's mother (Melissa McCarthy) and the school principal. The cast is also full of other sharp and snappy comedic performances, led by the terrific Mann and supported by Albert Brooks as Pete's money-mooching father and Jason Segel as Debbie's personal trainer.

Those performances have to carry a lot of the film's weight because Apatow doesn't construct a traditional story arc. This Is 40 focuses on the bickering and making up that seems to compose a large chunk of Pete and Debbie's life. This unconventional structure might be maddening for those who don't recognize the uneven rhythms of a couple trying to rediscover their marriage's firm foundation. Between the punch lines, Apatow shares a wise message about the hard work that goes into being a good partner, and the temptation to avoid anything that might rock the boat.

Though this rambling approach tends to work in Apatow's favor, it's hard to imagine what his editor does to earn a paycheck. The characters' tangents are often full of crackling one-liners, but there are times when the shaggy, unkempt pacing of This Is 40 makes you long for something more ruthlessly constructed.

It's easy to understand why Apatow adores his characters and the hilarious things they say. Imagine how amazing it would be if he had a better sense of how to shape all that into an actual movie.

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