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November 19, 2012

Mann on Fire

Hollywood's most reliable funny girl, Leslie Mann, finally takes the spotlight in This is 40, an uproarious send-up of marriage and motherhood. (Guess whose life it's based on?)

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Photo Credit: James White

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In This Is 40, Mann reprises her role as Knocked Up's big sister Debbie, only now she finally gets her star turn — the film zooms in on Debbie's tense relationship with her man-child husband, Pete (played by Paul Rudd), as they freak out about hitting midlife. This time around, Apatow, famous for perennially casting his posse of comic actors (like Jonah Hill and Seth Rogen, for example), fills out the cast with a cadre of big-name funnywomen, including comic powerhouse McCarthy, Bridesmaids cowriter Annie Mumolo, Girls creator Lena Dunham, and Knocked Up's stoner chick Charlyne Yi. Veteran Saturday Night Live scribe Paula Pell executive produced.

Mann draws major laughs as she comes to terms with getting older, including in the opening scene when she declares, "I don't want to have a husband who takes Viagra!"; in another, she talks about that weird, uncomfortable moment when your breasts get smashed during a mammogram. In writing the script, Apatow drew inspiration from his own 15-year marriage to Mann, who doesn't help him write so much as play out the scenes that he eventually puts down on paper. "I wanted to make a movie about this turning point in people's lives," Apatow explains, "so we start kicking around ideas for scenes and it becomes a coded way for us to have a discussion with each other about sensitive issues: This is how Pete is feeling about something, but really I'm trying to tell [Leslie] about how I'm feeling about something. And she does the same with Debbie." It was Mann's idea, for instance, to include a scene where Debbie hits a club with a younger coworker (Megan Fox) and ends up picking up members of a Canadian hockey team. "Leslie said, 'You should do a sequence where I go out dancing' — and then she tells me about the time she and her friends went out and ended up hanging out with a minor league hockey team, and how good it felt to be hit on by them. When you've been married for a long time, it makes you feel good to know people are still attracted to you, so we started to figure out that sequence."

In another scene, Debbie catches Pete playing Scrabble while sitting on the toilet. Mann doesn't have any qualms revealing that versions of that scenario really happen in her own home. "If [Judd's] in the bathroom for longer than, like, two and a half minutes, I know that he is tweeting or doing whatever he does," she tells me, rolling her eyes benignly. It feels like she's just tossed out something deeply private between them, only it isn't because, come on, we've all been there, and so how could that story end with anything but laughter?


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