Forty days and 40 nights

We should all be so lucky.

We should all be so lucky.

Rated 4.0

Nepotism pays off in a big way as Leslie Mann stars in husband Judd Apatow’s hilarious This Is 40, reprising her role of Debbie from Apatow’s Knocked Up.

Also returning are Paul Rudd as husband Pete, Maude and Iris Apatow (Mann and Apatow’s kids) as Pete and Debbie’s daughters, and Jason Segel as, well, a strange variation on Jason Segel.

Spinning off Knocked Up to further explore the characters of Debbie and Pete sounded like a strange enterprise to me. Knocked Up leads Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl are nowhere to be seen. Fear not, for This Is 40 is as smart and funny as the film that spawned it. And who needs Heigl, anyway? As for Rogen, I can never get enough of the guy. I was hoping for a cameo, but no dice.

The film opens with Debbie in denial of her 40th birthday, a worn-out movie cliché, for sure. No matter, because Apatow and Mann make it all fresh, funny and, at times, wonderfully vulgar.

Debbie sneaks smokes, chastises her husband for taking Viagra and pretends she’s 38 on her 40th birthday. Mann just pulled down a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical. Rudd is nominated as well. They both deserve the noms.

The ever-reliable Rudd’s Pete secretly devours cupcakes, tries to get his wife to like the Pixies, and steals private time with his iPad through extended, unnecessary bathroom breaks. He also attempts to revive Graham Parker’s fledgling music career with his small record company so he can make the mortgage payment.

Rudd and Mann play a married couple with stunning reality, efficiency and humor. They throw lethal verbal daggers at one another, and even fantasize about each other dying. Yet there seems to be a strange sort of everlasting love at play. Rudd is probably channeling Apatow here, surely getting plenty of hints from his director on how to deal with the wife.

Adding to the authenticity are Maude and Iris Apatow, realistically sparring with their real-life matriarch. Maude is especially good here, capturing the shrieking frustration of a teen girl having her Wi-Fi restricted. One of the movie’s running gags is her obsession with watching Lost, a joke that’s funnier than it sounds. Little Iris is obviously the daughter of Mann and Apatow; she possesses killer comic timing.

As for supporting casts, you won’t find one much better in 2012. Albert Brooks plays Rudd’s dad, getting more laughs than he has in years. John Lithgow plays Mann’s pop, a stick-in-the-mud who has a change of heart by film’s end.

There’s more! Megan Fox is actually really funny as Desi, Debbie and Pete’s employee at their clothing boutique. She’s capable of playing more than just Michael Bay eye-candy, for sure. Chris O’Dowd, who got a lot of laughs playing Kristen Wiig’s love interest in Bridesmaids, gets many again as one of Pete’s record label employees.

If that’s not enough for you, there’s Melissa McCarthy stealing her few scenes as a parent who gets into a feud with Debbie and Pete regarding their children. (McCarthy’s son in the film really does look like Tom Petty.) The aforementioned Segel shines as Debbie’s trainer, and Charlyne Yi is her usual deadpan funny as another of Debbie’s employees.

This is the fourth film directed by Apatow, and he seems to have carved out a nice niche for himself. He’s sort of like James L. Brooks at his best with a little bit of Adam Sandler when he was good, finished off with just a pinch of Woody Allen from back when he didn’t suck.

This Is 40 is a long one at an epic 133 minutes. That’s just 25 minutes shorter than Les Miserables, and 33 minutes shorter than The Hobbit. Trust me in that this is time well spent. Apatow and company know how to put a comedy together, and Mann and Rudd are beyond competent at delivering it.