Posted by Jay Livingston
In “This is 40,” the recent Judd Apatow movie, Pete and Debbie (Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann) run off to a luxury hotel in Laguna for a romantic weekend. Stoned on a marijuana-laced cookie, they have room service bring them, among other things, a tableful of pastries.
The sight of the couple stuffing their mouths with pastries reminded me of a similar scene from the 1975 French comedy “Cousin Cousine.” In both films, the overload of desserts is a guilty pleasure, but in the French movie the emphasis is almost entirely on the pleasure, while the American film focuses on the guilt. The French lovers slowly feed each other one dessert after another; the scene is almost erotic. But Pete and Debbie seem like children, giggling and trying to eat as much as they can before they get caught. Both scenes mingle sex and pastry, but in the French movie the common theme is sensuality; “This is 40” plays both for laughs. (You can see the scene here.)
Married people in American movies and TV rarely have sex. In the old days, married people were portrayed as asexual beings; they lived in a world swept free of sexual urges. In “This is 40,” sex makes a frequent appearance, but something always happens to spoil the pleasure. Kids interrupt, or one of the two adults does something to deflate the other’s mood. The film begins with Pete and Debbie having passionate birthday sex in the shower until Pete reveals that he had taken Viagra for the occasion. Debbie stops and gets out of the shower.
There’s much more to be said about “This is 40" and the popularity of Judd Apatow films – the scarcity of real grown-ups, for example, and the general ambivalence about being a grown-up. The movie is about becoming forty, but Pete especially seems like an 18-year-old who has awakened to find that himself in the body of a forty year old man. But this post is about pleasure, and “This is 40" does have one unconflicted pleasure. The film is a comedy, and as the hotel scene makes clear, Pete and Debbie’s real pleasure is not sex or food or music but laughter. What holds them together is their shared humor, their ability to laugh at themselves.