Why a “Sort-of Sequel” is up for Best Adapted Screenplay

Slate's Culture Blog
Jan. 9 2013 3:01 PM

Why Is This Is 40 up for Best Adapted Screenplay?

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Iris Apatow, Maude Apatow, Paul Rudd, and Leslie Mann in This is 40

Photo bySuzanne Hanover– ©2012 Universal Studios.

The Oscars’ adapted screenplay category is crowded this year, including such awards-seasons heavy-hitters as Les Misérables (based on the eponymous book and musical) and Lincoln (based in part on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography of our 16th President, Team of Rivals). But one of the scripts sent around to Academy members for consideration in the category seems a bit curious: Judd Apatow’s This is 40. It’s not based on a book or a musical or a comic book or a board game. What makes Apatow’s latest look at dysfunctional adults an adapted, as opposed to an original screenplay?

It’s a “sort-of sequel” to his 2007 hit Knocked Up. According to Academy guidelines, any screenplay based on “previously produced or published material” regardless of the medium and regardless of the author, is considered to adapted. Such source material includes songs, poems, remakes—and sequels.

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The central married couple in This is 40, Debbie (Leslie Mann) and Pete (Paul Rudd), were secondary characters in the earlier film, playing sister and brother-in-law, respectively, to Katherine Heigl’s Alison (who doesn’t appear in the film). Other characters appearing in both films include Debbie and Pete’s children (played by Mann and Apatow’s real-life offspring) and Jason Segel’s character (conveniently named Jason).

This is 40 can be understood without any prior knowledge of Knocked Up, and it isn’t presented as a sequel in the way that, say, The Godfather Part II was. (The latter film was, of course, also based on a book.) But, like another recent example of this rule, Toy Story 3, the fact that the characters were already conceived in a previously released film makes This Is 40 an “adapted” work, at least as far as the Academy is concerned.

Aisha Harris is a Slate staff writer.