Writer-director Judd Apatow has carved a sizeable niche in comedies dealing with the nitty-gritty of sex and relationships, but This Is 40 is a tad more mature - yet no less funny - than his breakout hit Knocked Up. Paul Rudd and Apatow's real-life spouse Leslie Mann reprise their roles from the latter in a 'sort of sequel' that ponders the question of what sustains a marriage in the middle years.
Pete and Debbie are turning 40 in the same week, though Debbie insists that she's still in her thirties and has birthday candles to prove it. Still, the cracks are starting to show and not just around the eyes and mouth. Their home becomes a battleground and the opening skirmish is a doozy, sparked by a hit of Viagra that leaves Debbie feeling inadequate and Pete very frustrated.
Indignant, Debbie decides she doesn't want the attention at their upcoming birthday bash and makes it all about Pete, but the build-up to the party provides a loose framework for an ambitious, sprawling tale (in a style reminiscent of James L Brooks) that probes all areas of their married life.
Pete is still young at heart, the floppy-haired exec of an indie record label that is going down the tubes, unbeknown to his wife. Meanwhile, Debbie is trying to balance books at her fashion boutique with one eye jealously ogling her assistant Desi (Megan Fox) whose high sales figures may have something to do with her tendency to address customers from atop a ladder in a miniskirt.
Pete can't resist a peek either and misguidedly gives Debbie a nudge. In some ways, they're slipping into 'the friends zone' - Pete barely batting an eyelid when Debbie lets her blouse slip (thinking it's a wardrobe malfunction and trying to spare her blushes) - except they're getting on each other's nerves. Rather than fantasising about sex, they daydream about bumping each other off.
Naturally, Pete and Debbie love each other, but Apatow shows with snappy wit and scathing insight that liking each other is just as important. Unruly kids create another obstacle in their efforts to heal the rift, but Apatow's wickedly dirty sense of humour remains unbridled, particularly in a scene where Debbie must keep lifting her head out of Pete's lap to scream at them through the door.
As usual, Mann walks a fine line between quirky and cranky, and it's Rudd who more often comes out of a fight smelling of roses (despite being sat on the toilet the majority of the time). He has an easy charm that suits the character and infuriates his wife when she tries to lay down the law with his sponging dad (Albert Brooks) and mend bridges with her own father (John Lithgow).
Of course, Apatow gifts both parties with lots of spiky, funny banter and a feud with Bridesmaids's Melissa McCarthy (mum to the school bully) yields more jiggling belly laughs. These may have been surplus to requirements and Apatow adopts a leisurely pace, but this is a story about middle age after all and when characters are this much fun, you won't be watching the time go by.