Monday, January 07, 2013

"This Is 40" Captures Our Ambivalence with Technology


"This is 40," is Judd Apatow's raw, frenzied, and deliberately unsettling glimpse into the lives of an LA family, which, despite its Californianess, could be "every family" USA. Sort of. Parents argue and face/fight middle age, trying to control their vices (cupcakes and cigarettes). They force "therapy speak" in their discussions, keep large and small secrets from each other, deal with their own sets of dysfunctional co-workers and relatives, and suffer from failing or fragile businesses and bank accounts, barely realizing that they have over indulged and over leveraged. They are surrounded by a Greek chorus of friends and neighbors, who also suffer from the ailments of modern life. Temptation. Bad music. The enticement of fancy cars and luxury houses. And the occasional desire to fantasize about the death of their spouses. Ouch.

My quick one-minute review is that I must have liked the film enough to write about it, but unfortunately what Apatow gets right in the nuances and rhythms of daily life, he also gets wrong in overdoing blatant bodily functions and other infantile moments that are better left off camera. When Leslie Mann's character Debbie at one point pleads for a little mystery between herself and her husband Pete (Paul Rudd), I felt the same way! Apatow is a good enough writer that he doesn't need to pad his scenes with profanity, particularly when he is so good at showing people being bad. His movie is a bundle of scenes that range from the most sophisticated, to the most absurd, and it left my head spinning more then was probably worth it in the end.

How does technology play out in all this? This is the interesting part. It is the ongoing paradox in the film, both shielding the characters from real life, and opening the floodgates to emotional showdowns, depending on what day it is. iPhones and iPads abound in the movie, and at one point are used as a tool to punish the children, Iris and Maude, much to their highly vocal protests. "Can't we all just do things differently?" Debbie pleads at the dinner table, suggesting that her unbelieving children that they "build a fort."

Pete keeps disappearing, repeatedly found playing iPad games in the bathroom, missing out on his daughters' important moments, while Maude is obsessed with watching "Lost." Debbie and Pete at one point spy on their daughter's "chats," and learn that she has been left off of an apparent "hot" list, leading to a showdown with the classmate later on. Group dancing and singing courtesy of the iPod happen in one daughter's bedroom, and what appears to be a statement against modern music, part of which is bankrupting Pete's record business.

Technology is both a divider and a healer, and pops up again at the end when used as a bridge to connect John Lithgow (Debbie's absentee father), to her family, as the kids explain the show to him on his first visit to their home. Like he really never heard of it? Albert Brooks is similarly out of tune with technology, helpless in many ways, including how to sell a valuable painting online. "How do I call E-Bay?" he asks.

Technology also encourages voyeurism, allowing Pete and Debbie to observe Megan Fox seducing a customer at their shop...and as if living vicariously, they are happy about it.

The messages are many...take your pick:

-Technology can replace intimacy if we let it...but maybe that's sometimes what's needed.

-Technology is both a divider and a unifier.

-Everything in moderation.

-What doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

-Life is messy, and so is technology. Proveed accordingly.

So, is this film a glimpse of what and how modern families will be plugged into in the years to come? Will we have to introduce computer sanctions at home, and start police our kids' gadgets?

Some of the reviews I have read call the characters in this film "whiny" and "self-indulgent." Ironically, this brings to mind the very same criticism of another famous right of passage drama show that depicted characters just trying to grow up, show up, and get along. What was that again? Oh yeah, "Thirty Something."


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