One Oscar snub last week that didn’t surprise me at all was the Academy’s lack of love for This Is 40. Although the Judd Apatow production (which was marketed as a sort of sequel to 2007’s Knocked Up) has been a modest box-office success since its December 21 release, about half of the critical masses was unimpressed. I can understand why.
The movie starts off strongly with some sharp and witty observations about Viagra, erections (also a recurring theme in The Sessions, which I finally saw last night — more on that in a future post), and sex as one enters the fifth decade, but it never quite gets on track to any specific destination. Overall, the dramedic proceedings are a bit of a mess, with no clear focus and no real plot. If I were to assign it an age, I’d give it a 25 because its aimlessness is so twentysomething.
That’s not to say that it’s nearly as exasperating as your average clueless 25 year old. It’s intermittently funny and dead accurate in its perception of marriage and parenthood, its observation about aging rock idols who look like old women, and its categorization of the retro-’80s music taste of people of a certain age into two camps (some of us fondly remember the Pixies, others A-Ha’s “Take on Me” — no judging). It’s also a nice, welcome respite from the usual sturm un drang of Oscar season movie-watching.
As with the bulk of the best of TV and movies in 2012, music is a highlight. There’s so much great pop on the soundtrack (courtesy of, among others, the aforementioned Pixies and A-Ha, Nicki Minaj, Paul Simon and Walter Egan, singing his 1978 classic “Magnet and Steel”), and three greats — Graham Parker, Ryan Adams and Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong — pop up in the flesh. Such winning music for a film about a failed music executive!
As much as I enjoyed leads Leslie Mann (so relatable and rootable, like Elisabeth Shue’s sweetly neurotic kid sister) and Paul Rudd (great hair!), and the non-singing supporting turns by lengendary character actors Albert Brooks and John Lithgow (playing deadbeat dads, parental failures for very different reasons) as well as Charlyne Yi and Melissa McCarthy (stick around for the closing credits for an extended remix of her performance), there’s only one truly Oscar-caliber moment in the film. It’s musical — of course — and it arrives just as Rudd’s character takes off on a daredevil bike ride near the end.
If the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences can get more daring in some of its Grammy choices, why can’t the Academy of Motional Picture Arts and Sciences return to its brief moment of edginess in the ’00s when two rap songs, including one by Eminem, won Best Original Song Oscars? Last year, only two songs were deemed worthy of nominating (some competition), and although it’s once again a five-song race in 2013, the category could use more edge and one killer song.
That’s where Fiona Apple’s “Dull Tool” should have come in. (I’m especially mad about the double entendre-ness of that title!) Maybe the aimlessness of This Is 40 caused the members of the Academy who vote for the musical categories to doze off before it got around to Fiona. Or perhaps “Dull Tool” was deemed unqualified because, although a significant portion of it was heard in the film, it wasn’t used in its entirety — but useless Oscar rules, especially ones that work against most made-for-movies tunes, were made to be overturned. And it’s not as if actors never win Oscars for minuscule screen time.
In a perfect awards season in which Oscars actually went to people who deserved them, Apple would have an excellent shot at stopping Adele from adding “Oscar winner” to her bulging list of accolades for “Skyfall.” But then This Is 40, not The Impossible.