There are awkward moments aplenty in This Is 40, which opens Friday and which revisits Knocked Up's marrieds, Pete ( Paul Rudd) and Debbie ( Leslie Mann), as they grapple with parenting issues, economic issues, sexual issues, and weird bathroom-habit issues.
In a hotel room at the Four Seasons, set up for the writer/director/producer's interviews on the day a couple of weeks ago that he dropped into Philadelphia, a poster for This Is 40 stands on an easel (in case anyone forgets the subject at hand). The image is of Rudd wielding a TV remote, of Mann alongside him reading a book, and of two girls jumping and flying in front of them across the bed. If you Photoshopped Rudd's face out of the picture and replaced it with Apatow's, this is very much a scene from a real marriage. Apatow is wed to Mann, and Maude and Iris, the two girls who appear as Pete and Debbie's kids, are, in fact, Apatow and Mann's.
This Is 40, then, is personal.
Up to a point.
"This is my version of a film about this middle-aged period of life," Apatow explains, "but it's not a story from our lives. . . . Leslie is such a courageous actress, she wants to go farther, and she wants it to be as truthful as possible, but for us it's about emotional truth. . . .
"Nothing in the movie happened . . . but it is about our concerns, and it does examine all of the debates that we have. It is a heightened version of our communication problems."
Well, a few things in the movie really happened. Apatow and Mann's eldest, Maude, who was 13 when they shot This Is 40 and has just now turned 15, did, like her character in the film, go on a major Lost binge - watching every one of the 121 episodes of the J.J. Abrams series in a matter of weeks. It pretty much drove her to the brink.
"She really was so emotional, and crying a lot," Maude's father said fondly.
Actress Mann, and daughters Maude and Iris, also appeared in Apatow's Funny People, which starred Adam Sandler as an Adam Sandleresque comedian/movie star. Maude and Iris play Mann's character's children. Write about what you know.
"The second we start a project - well, first I have to get her permission to do it," Apatow says, explaining how he and his wife approach their work. "So I have to tell her the idea, and then she says if she's game and if she feels like it's appropriate to have the kids in the movie.
"I'm probably more reckless that way. I just think, well, this would be really interesting. And she says, 'Yes, but will we ruin our children's lives?'
"And I'll say, 'Only if the movie's terrible.' "
So Apatow and Mann throw ideas out there, and talk through them, and walk through them, and deconstruct them.
"It's fictionalized," Apatow says, "but in some ways it is our lives. Or how we look at life. And that's why it feels balanced, because she defends Debbie's position and I defend Pete's. Sometimes, when we're working on the movie we're having a conversation with each other about issues we have with each other, but it's coded through the characters. So Leslie will say, 'You should do a scene where Pete admits that he knows he's a [jerk].'
"And I'll say, 'Yeah, well, we should do a scene that shows that Debbie's being controlling . . . .
"It's multimillion-dollar couples therapy - we hope other people will enjoy."
Another scene in This Is 40 that actually happened, more or less, is when Debbie goes off to a dance club with the employee of her clothing shop, played by Megan Fox, and they get picked up by some hockey players - current and former Philadelphia Flyers Scott Hartnell, Matt Carle, James van Riemsdyk, and Ian Laperrière.
"Leslie went out to a nightclub once and started talking to a bunch of hockey players, so she said you should do a scene about that, what it feels like to be a 40-year-old woman getting hit on by young boys and how she likes it. You like to feel like you're still sexy and attractive to strangers.
"So I had this joke in the script where one of the hockey players had a lot of teeth missing, and we started trying to figure out who . . . and we realized that Ian Laperrière was perfect casting. And then we filled [the scene] out with his fellow Flyers. . . . I forced them to hit on my wife and Megan Fox and dance for 15 hours. They had a blast."
This Is 40
Opens Friday in area theaters
Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or email@example.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at www.philly.com/onmovies.