Midway through Judd Apatow’s wise and very funny fourth feature and his first to probe the dark recesses of a modern marriage, Leslie Mann’s Debbie walks in on her husband Pete (Paul Rudd) propped up like a woman on a gynaecologist’s table and using a mirror and an iPhone to inspect his rectum.
Pete, who each weekend joins those other packs of lycra-clad road warriors tearing around the suburbs, has worked his rear-end raw and demands his wife peer between his shamelessly splayed cheeks to see if he has an anal fissure or a haemorrhoid.
“Can we just keep like a small shred of mystery in our relationship, ” a stunned Debbie asks Pete, who counterattacks by claiming it’s payback for having to endure watching her pop out two babies (in Pete’s defence, he has left his socks on).
It is one of those classic Apatow moments as horrific as it is hilarious, a carefully crafted assault on our sensibilities and common decency — of which there are usually two or three in any production by Hollywood’s comedy king.
However, this time the destined-to-be-recounted gross-out moment has a greater purpose as it nails the dilemma of the long-time married couple who know each other too well — Debbie thinks nothing of bursting into the loo where Pete is hiding out with his iPad — and not well enough.
This is 40 doesn’t have the high concepts of previous Apatow-directed hits and is not as outrageously rude, although Mann’s verbal assault on a young Justin Bieber lookalike for not including her daughter on a Facebook hot list is breathtakingly frank.
Indeed, the film spills out well over two hours (it is way longer than the average comedy) and the plot meanders all over the place, with Apatow letting his usual line-up of crack comedians (Annie Mumolo, Jason Segel, Chris O’Dowd and TV golden girl Lena Dunham) off the leash for signature comic riffing.
Rudd is as genial and charming as ever as Pete, adding a layer of befuddlement and frustration to capture the well-meaning father struggling to maintain the family’s lavish lifestyle during an economic downturn and changes in the music industry; and Albert Brooks shines as the refreshingly honest, open-hearted geezer with his feet on the ground.
But This is 40 is Mann’s movie, her coming out after a series of sensational supporting roles in her husband Apatow’s previous films (we first met Debbie and Pete in Knocked Up). It is indeed the golden age of women in comedy and at the moment, Mann is its queen.