HOLLYWOOD'S MOST popular delusion is the story of romantic destiny, the couple buffeted by fate until they meet on top of the Empire State building, or whatever.

The implication: happily ever after, true and perfect love.

Have you noticed you never actually see these people living together?

You never see, for instance, Meg Ryan, a few years down the road, telling Tom Hanks that he's once again left his socks in the middle of the den, then screaming at him because he's watching the Seahawks game and hasn't actually heard a thing that she's said, which leads to him spending the night on the pull-out couch - sleepless, indeed.

This is why I really feel sorry for Edward and Bella. Together for "Twilight" eternity. Let's revisit them after 200 years of Edward clipping his toenails over the newspaper that Bella has yet to read. It puts a different spin on eternity.

Judd Apatow's brutally honest comedy "This is 40" is a corrective to all of this. It's the story of Pete and Debbie (Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann, updated from "Knocked Up"), a couple in their second decade of marriage, doing the hard work of keeping love alive while raising kids (Maude and Iris Apatow), dealing with in-laws (Albert Brooks, John Lithgow), career ups and downs, middle age and its indignities.

These are forces that over time can scrape the gilding from new love, and there's a lot of scraping in "This is 40" - the movie is a little too convincing, too often, on the subject of marital woe.

You have to wait a long time for compensating scenes - Rudd and Mann getting called to the principal's office (opposite Melissa McCarthy) where they must bluff their way out of culpability in a school dispute.

The movie has a few of these gems, and some less-polished stones as well. Apatow is an astute observer and dramatizer of human behavior, but not always a great editor and shaper of his material. "This is 40" runs an alarming 135 minutes, with meandering side trips to take stock of Rudd's faltering music-promotion business - Graham Parker makes an extended cameo. (Flyers fans, however, will get a kick out of small speaking roles for Ian Laperriere and Scott Hartnell, hockey players who hit on Mann and Megan Fox in a nightclub.)

Apatow hates to walk away from a scene that gets laughs. But not every scene that gets laughs improves the story, enlarges the themes or deepens the characters. One notorious example here - a naked Rudd with his legs splayed, asking his wife to examine his hemorrhoids.

Sometimes you wish Apatow would apply some Preparation H to his movies - to reduce the swelling.

Blog: philly.com/KeepItReel