Synopsis: Andy Stitzer (Steve Carell) has gone 40 years without “doing it.” Now his pals are making it their mission to help him score… fast! Can he survive their hilariously bad advice? Will he land in the arms of the way-too-experienced or the way-too-drunk? Or can he find true love where he least expects – from a gorgeous grandmother (Catherine Keener)?
eyelights: its stellar and diverse cast. its unique subject matter.
eyesores: its third act.
“From now on, my dick is your dick. I’m gonna get you laid.”
It’s stunning how stigmatized virginity is. Though it’s still considered a sign of “purity” in some circles, past a certain age even there it’s looked upon with suspicion or condescension. In the rest of modern society, though, being a virgin is equivalent to being a loser, to not being desirable or capable enough to attract and/or seduce another person. This impression can attract derision, hobbling a reputation for as long as the status holds.
So the pressure to lose one’s virginity is tremendous.
I remember catching up with a high school friend at a common friend’s wedding while in our mid-’20s. He hadn’t yet lost his virginity and he was beside himself with despair and worry. He saw it as an inherent flaw, as a dark cloud over his personal life, as a badge of shame that he wore everywhere he went. I tried to reassure him that it was no big deal and that it was just a matter of time, but he was inconsolable. And he wasn’t even that old, either!
Imagine the same scenario at 40!
‘The 40-Year-Old Virgin’ is a Judd Apatow comedy about Andy, a shy quadragenarian who works for an electronics chain store. During a poker night with some of his colleagues, their raunchy talk reveals that Andy has no experience with women. None whatsoever. And so his work buddies take it upon themselves to coach him in the art of seduction, with the intention of finally getting the guy laid. But, for all their collective skill, he’s a tough student.
Andy may not get lucky.
Frankly, I didn’t think twice about ‘The 40-Year-Old Virgin’ when it first came out in 2005; to me, it sounded like just one of many crap sex comedies that were making the rounds since ‘American Pie‘ busted a nut at the box office back in 1999. But a close friend of mine made me a copy, telling me to watch it. And since he’s not prone to enjoying run-of-the-mill Hollywood comedies, I had to trust that there was something to it – so I gave it a chance.
It was certainly much better than I’d previously imagined, though it didn’t leave a lasting impression; years later, I could barely recall any of it. But that seems to be my experience with Apatow films: so far, all the ones that I’ve seen I’ve enjoyed, but I can’t seem to remember much about them. With ‘The 40-Year-Old Virgin’, all I knew was that Steve Carell was the star (and co-writer with Apatow) – but I couldn’t remember anything else about it.
It’s not to say that it’s a bland film. Hardly. ‘The 40-Year-Old Virgin’ is both sweet and very funny. It empathizes with Andy in such a way that, although he’s sort of the butt end of most jokes, he’s also endearing; he’s not so much a loser as a socially-awkward dork. And it mixes up riotous humour and crazy antics in such a way that the picture never feels limp – though it also never demeans itself by resorting to juvenile and/or gross-out humour.
Steve Carell is absolutely perfect for the part. He brings intelligence and emotional depth to Andy and is so good here that you can tell that he wrote the part for himself. I’d even be tempted to say that this is the part that made a star of him if not for his small roles in hit films ‘Bruce Almighty‘ and ‘Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy’ a year or two before, and the stunning success of ‘The Office’ that very same year. He was well on his way.
The rest of the cast is also exceptional. I’m no great fan of Seth Rogen but he’s great as Andy’s tattooed, macho coworker, never breaking character to be his usual goofy self. Paul Rudd brings his usual magic to David, another co-worker, and Romany Malco is hilarious as Jay, the player in the quartet, who makes it his life’s goal to get Andy laid. Catherine Keener is solid as Trish, the single mom who gives Andy a chance, unaware of his inexperience.
Even the cameos, of which there are untold numbers, are terrific: Jane Lynch is hilarious as Andy’s cantankerous boss (who overhears of his troubles and eventually proposes a FWB arrangement), Elizabeth Banks plays a freaky employee in the bookstore across the street that Andy manages to seduce, Leslie Mann is hilarious as a party girl who takes Andy for a ride, and Kat Dennings is excellent as Marla, Trish’s cynical and mildly entitled daughter.
And then there’s Gerry Bednob as Mooj, Andy’s foul-mouthed Indian colleague! What a mouth on this guy!
The humour mostly comes from the way the people interact. In fact, it’s said that much of the dialogues were improvised, giving them a more natural, immediate quality. Some of my favourite moments were simple ones, like when Andy goes to a sex clinic with Marla under the guise of getting her some information, and ends up meeting a group of quirky individuals who all have amusing stories to tell, or the neighbours’ reactions to Andy’s sex life.
The worst of the movie comes in the third act, where the standard conflict is contrived between Andy and Trish when, after agreeing to 20 dates before getting intimate, he gets nervous and sabotages their anticipated rendez-vous. Of course he does. And then she goes to his apartment to wait up for him and finds the porn that David lent him, as well a prop he apparently stole from the sex clinic – and thinks he’s a pervert, if not a psycho. Really? A psycho?
Naturally, it all ends well and the picture wraps up with a bloody musical number, which only exacerbated things for me. It’s perfectly fine that Andy gets a happy ending (ahem…), he deserves one, but it didn’t have to be wrapped up in false drama. I guess the musical number is an amusing way to lighten things up, but I hate musicals – even more so when they involve non-musicians and non-dancers. At least it didn’t get too precious or saccharine.
And, all told, ‘The 40-Year-Old Virgin’, still holds up. It would have been far more enjoyable with a stronger third act but, like ‘Young People Fucking‘, it’s a much better movie than its title would suggest: It’s not nearly as mindless as one would think and it handles a sensitive matter fairly delicately, all the while providing the laughs as well. At the very least, it’s a pleasant way to spend two hours in the company a fairly terrific ensemble cast.
In a way, I wish that I had seen the picture at the time of its release, so that I could partake in discussions with people about our society’s attitudes about virginity. I’d have been curious to hear what people think of that, both in the context of the movie, but also in real life. My impression is that our views can be a little narrow – and completely biased, if not contradictory sometimes, making it a confusing mess that’s far too loaded for nothing.
It’s “only” sex, after all.
Date of viewing: December 11, 2016