The old saying "life begins at 40," makes an effective theme for a 40th birthday party celebration. By setting an upbeat tone, a host can avoid all the "over the hill" clichés traditionally attached to that milestone. The goal should be for the 40-year-old honoree to leave the party feeling both entertained and regenerated.
Guests fortified with tubs of popcorn can settle down to view a nostalgic film or a modern-age comedy. George Marshall's version of the theme, a 1935 film titled "Life Begins at Forty" stars Will Rogers. Judd Apatow's "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" starring Steve Carell is another possible movie choice. Both are available on DVD.
If "life begins at 40," then guest of honor will need some advice. Have guests each write out their best life advice, humorous or serious, on slips of paper. Read them all aloud; everyone tries to guess who composed which piece of advice. For a time line game, guests are divided into groups. Each group is given a long sheet of paper. Each group tries to construct (without resorting to any electronic assistance) a time line that shows what they consider the major events of the past 40 years.
As part of the birthday party invitations, guests are assigned to bring gifts, fitting the birthday honoree's "life-begins-at-40" needs. These gifts should have a $5 limit (or whatever amount the host decides is reasonable for what will be gag gifts). Depending on the number of guests, the birthday guest of honor will receive gifts he will need at age 1 (for example, a pacifier), age 5 (crayons), age 10 (a few packs of bubble gum), age 16 (a gaudy key ring), age 21 (a corkscrew), and so on.
For a party with a "life begins at forty" theme, refreshments should consist of food kids would like, with an adult twist. For example, orange or grape juice might actually be screwdrivers and wine; peanut butter and jelly sandwiches might become prosciutto, bacon and jalapenos. A chocolate birthday cake might be espresso-flavored and layered with chocolate mousse.
So that the guests can at least have the fun of ribbing the guest of honor at least once, a group photo with everyone gathered around a diapered, bibbed and pacifier-sucking 40-year-old, whose life is just beginning, makes a fun souvenir. Another option is to present each guest with a roll of quarters with instructions to spend each of the 40 coins wisely.