Welp, This Tracks

This Is 40 Used To Terrify Me. Now I Get The Midlife Humor.

Debbie’s story just hits different these days.

Written by Allison Kenien
Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann star in the 2012 film 'This Is 40.'
Universal Pictures

It's shocking, but millennials are turning 40. In fact, the oldest millennials are currently 42. And believe it or not, a decade has passed since Miley Cyrus twerked at the VMAs, the Gangnam Style dance went viral, and Gossip Girl's identity was revealed. Around that same time, Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann showed the truth about middle age in the movie This Is 40.

I first watched This Is 40 after its release in 2012 when I was 27 years old. At that time, the movie was freaking terrifying. My husband and I were newly married, and we watched as Paul Rudd's Pete and Leslie Mann's Debbie fantasized about killing one another while dealing with awkward midlife issues.

Now, I'm 38, and I realize this film is not a foreboding premonition — it's a satirical look at the realities of being 40.

Not Old, Not Young

The film kicks off with Debbie's 40th birthday, although her cake says "Happy 38th birthday." Like many middle-aged women, Debbie wants to hide her real age, and Pete accuses her of being insecure.

In my 20s, I would have totally agreed with Pete. Ten years later, I understand Debbie's issue, which she sums up perfectly by saying, "I don't want to shop at old ladies' stores. I don't want to go to J. Jill and Chico's and Ann Taylor Loft. I need two more years."

This really hit home for me since Gen Z thinks my skinny jeans are old lady pants. I'm not ready to head to Talbots yet, but I don't want to wear a crop top, either. The movie absolutely nails feeling lost between young and old fashions.

Oh, The Battle Scars

Along with resisting old lady clothing, Debbie is battling her 40-year-old body. The wear and tear that happens to women is caricatured through Debbie's friend who no longer has sex. She cannot feel anything down below due to nerve damage from a C-section. "I could sit down hard on a fire hydrant, and I wouldn't even know that I was sitting," she says.

Let's be honest: This scene would shock and horrify any 27-year-old childless woman. Now that I've been through childbirth, I understand this is an exaggeration and not representative of most women.

School Drama Truth Bomb

Since I have young kids, I totally relate to the scenes where Pete and Debbie visit their daughters' school. The teacher says their daughter needs to stop being late. Debbie insists they're on time, and the teacher explains that "being on time means being early." Folks, this is my life. If my kids show up organized and on time, there's always some ridiculous detail I've missed.

The movie pokes fun at annoying school parents through the character of Catherine, a hilariously irksome mom played by Melissa McCarthy. Pete and Debbie get into several altercations with Catherine and her son. At one point, Pete shoves Catherine on the shoulder, and she accuses him of touching her nipple. Of course, Pete tells her this is ridiculous, to which she insists, "I have very high nipples."

Yeah, people like Catherine exist in real life — they may be nicknamed Karen.

Resentment and The Younger Generation

Pete and Debbie struggle with workplace generational divides that are oh-so-real for many midlifers. Debbie owns a boutique, and her employee Desi (Megan Fox) is a shining example of youth with her wild sex life and supermodel body. In a conversation with Desi, Debbie reflects on her own sagging boobs saying, "My kids just sucked the meat right out of mine." Desi makes Debbie feel even worse when she replies, "By the time I'm 40, [my boobs] are going to go National Geographic on me." Yes, Desi, that might be true, but no need to say that to a woman who already has 40-year-old boobs.

The Case for Keeping an Open Mind

Ultimately, the movie shows us that midlifers need a go-with-the-flow attitude to stay sane.

Pete owns a record label and grapples with generational shifts as he realizes that his musical tastes are outdated. He refuses to let go of his own preferences for classic rock stars, and he loses money by investing in an elderly musician who has gout and bunions. "Why don't you sign a 15-year-old hot girl so we can eat?" Debbie says. Eventually, Pete considers signing a younger performer, and the outlook feels more hopeful.

Pete becomes more receptive to change at home, too. Debbie finds out she is pregnant and tries to convince herself she's happy about it. She asks Pete if he wishes they had a bigger family. He responds, "Never," and says he feels bad for the gray-haired pregnant lady from school. At the end of the movie, Debbie reveals her pregnancy — and Pete is happy about the new baby. The ending vibe is that the couple can handle unexpected twists as long as they support each other.

And ultimately, that's the no-so-scary truth about middle age. You can cope with bickering kids, changing bodies, and work drama if you roll with the punches and lean on your village. Whether that's your spouse, your friends, or your dog, the most important thing is to have someone who can laugh with you about the ridiculousness that is 40.