When I was in the process of finishing up “Losering” in the fall of 2011, Ryan’s Ashes & Fire album arrived like a gift from the heavens. I was writing a book focused on Ryan’s early years, and a recurrent theme of the closing stretch was his literal disconnection from that time. Then here came Ashes, on which Ryan sounded more like his younger self than he had in years. Best of all was this opening couplet from the album’s first single:
I don’t remember, were we wild and young?
All that’s faded into memory.
I feel like somebody I don’t know.
Are we really who we used to be?
Am I really who I was?
That’s “Lucky Now,” which tied up the whole “Losering” story with a nice little bow; I almost felt like I should send Ryan a thank-you note. But I settled for writing that “Lucky Now” put me in mind of Ryan going back in time with one of Charles Dickens’ Christmas-eve spirits to watch his own shadow stumble down Raleigh’s Hillsborough Street strip — only to stop short of the darkness and turn toward the light:
And love can mend your heart,
But only if you’re lucky now.
“Lucky Now” also gets prominent play in director Judd Apatow’s new romantic comedy “This Is 40,” a movie featuring an onscreen appearance by Ryan as himself. That was reason enough for me to see the film, but it was still a mixed experience. “This Is 40” doesn’t tell a story so much as overwhelm the viewer with endless wisecracks, banter and over-the-top assholery, much of which made me cringe even as I laughed out loud. While it’s likable enough, this isn’t the sort of film that sticks with you. The characters never get any deeper than paper-thin, and Apatow doesn’t seem to have anything particularly revelatory to say about encroaching middle age. If I were giving it a grade, it would fall somewhere in the B-/C+ range; decent date-night fare, that’s all.
But the Ryan Adams faithful will still want to see “This Is 40” because our hero’s music plays a prominent Greek-chorus role. About 45 minutes in, leads Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann attempt to rekindle the spark of their relationship with a romantic weekend get-away, set to Ryan’s “Shining Through the Dark” (which he played on “Conan” last week). And the movie ends with Rudd and Mann watching Ryan onstage, playing “Lucky Now” as a benediction.
It’s nice — and also a better closing note than the movie deserves.