The 40-Year Old Virgin
2005Director: Judd Apatow
Cast: Steve Carell, Catherine Keener, Paul Rudd
he surprising thing about The 40-Year Old Virgin isn’t that it’s funny (which it is). No, what is truly startling, and more than welcome, about this film is its sensitivity. That sounds like an odd claim to make about a movie that features a joke about “horse-fucking” in its first five minutes, and as one of its running gags depends on the lead character’s morning wood, but co-writers Judd Apatow and Steve Carell never let the sophomoric humor overpower the insight and (I swear to God) subtlety they bring to the script. Yes, boys and girls, a 2005 mainstream American sex comedy can treat its audience with respect and intelligence. The dick jokes are pretty funny, too.
The film’s title more or less sums up the plot, such as it is. Carell plays Andy Stitzer, a meek, middle-aged electronics store employee who makes up with his lack of action by obsessively collecting every action figure and video game he can lay his unspoiled hands on. The cost of Andy’s semi-successful tamping down of sexual frustration has been his reversion to a kind of solitary, pre-adolescent nerddom. Andy’s the kind of guy who rides his bike to work and makes it a point never to miss his weekly viewing of Survivor with the sweet elderly couple who live upstairs in his building. He’s a nice fellow, but “that guy needs to get laid,” the old man sympathetically grumbles to his wife.
"Watch those hands, Mr. Aggressive!"
Enter—who else?—the crew of overbearing male friends, who, upon learning of Andy’s little “problem”, make it their collective quest to bed Andy down with a girl...any girl. For all their supportive exuberance and sexual experience, the film pounds home the point that none of these more “battle-tested” buddies really has the romantic game figured out (indeed, their respective tribulations make up some of the more hilarious moments of the film). David (Paul Rudd) is the classic romantic on the rebound, pining for the ex who will never, ever return to him. Jay (Romany Malco) is the Lothario whose conquests eventually catch up with him, and Cal (Seth Rogen) is just...weird. With these three pushing a reluctant Andy into the dating game, things are bound to go wrong, as they invariably do to great comedic effect.
But while it would have been easy to take The 40-Year Old Virgin down the dark road to pure fratboyism, Carell and Apatow avoid this temptation by keeping the story and central character grounded in a recognizably human reality. The worst thing the filmmakers could have done would have been to make Andy, the quintessentially nerdy celibate, into a figure worthy of vicious mockery. But they instead emphasize the gentle pathos at the heart of Andy’s dilemma– he’s a nice guy who, through a combination of circumstance and his own shy personality, has essentially given up on sex and, more problematically, adulthood. As Trish, the love interest played brilliantly by Catherine Keener, tells him, what he needs to do even more than get laid is grow up.
"You guys interrupted my private time with...myself..."
Not that the outside world is all peaches and cream. At the heart of The 40-Year Old Virgin is an implied social critique that is only partially masked by the raucous hilarity of Andy’s quest. We live in a sex-obsessed world that in its own way is no more mature than the Andy Stitzers of the planet, and is often more cruel. People use sex to hide their own seething insecurities, often to the detriment of their emotional development. At least Andy’s problem is straightforward– everyone else, the film seems to argue, is fooling themselves. This is not to say that The 40-Year Old Virgin is neo-Puritan or scandalized by, in Shakespeare’s phraseology, “the beast with two backs.” But it’s not an exercise in over-analysis to discern a real concern within the film that our grasp of the intellectual and emotional issues that invariably surround sex is perhaps far exceeded by our eagerness to simply get it on, damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead.
But enough of “sex comedy as social critique.” This movie is damned funny, consistently and uproariously so. In fact, unless I miss my guess it’ll stand out as the best comedy released all year. In Carell’s able hands, Andy Stitzer becomes one of the great comic creations in recent memory, and his band of unruly buddies steal every scene they’re in. Those Big Lebowski nerds among us might have to carve out new mental space for the endless stream of quotable lines supplied by this flick, including “I’ll haunt your dreams,” and “you’ve gotta wait until the seed becomes a plant. Then you gotta fuck the plant,” and my personable favorite, a tossed-off line about Everybody Loves Raymond that is note-perfect in its understated way. That’s without even mentioning an impromptu game of “I know you’re gay because...” and the bizarre ending, an out-of-nowhere musical number that is practically a monument to surreal wit. But don’t take my word for it. See this movie, and then see it again. After all, you have to lose your cherry sometime.
By: Jay Millikan
Published on: 2005-08-30