Film Reviews: Wednesday, August 17, 2005
The 40-Year-Old Virgin\r\nStarring Steve Carell and Catherine Keener. Directed by Judd Apatow. Written by Judd Apatow and Steve Carell. Rated R.
Just Lose It

The misadventures of The 40-Year-Old Virgin lead to a (de)flowering of genius.


Usually when Hollywood tries its hand at raunchy sexual humor, the results are toxic — look no further than Mr. Deuce Bigalow’s current effort for proof. Every so often, though, a movie comes down the pipe that does the raunch exactly right. That’s what The 40-Year-Old Virgin does, and for everyone who thought Wedding Crashers was the summer’s best comedy, this is an even funnier and more convincing piece of work.

The abstemious gentleman in the title is Andy Stitzer (Steve Carell), who works in the stockroom of a chain electronics store. He doesn’t have a repellent personality or physique, unless you’re turned off by copious body hair. Still, partly by choice and partly by circumstance, he has never had sexual relations with a woman, and now his ongoing virginity has snowballed on him — having lost a string of chances early in his life, he’s all but given up on ever doing the deed. When his astounded male co-workers discover his secret, they’re determined to get him laid, besieging him with advice until he’s practically paralyzed.

If the concept for this nonsex comedy sounds as one-joke as the Deuce Bigalow sequel or The Aristocrats (see review below), the filmmakers don’t treat it that way. It’s true that Andy does fit a certain stereotype, a classic nerd who lives in an apartment decorated with an impressive array of action figures never removed from their boxes, including one of Oscar Goldman, the Six Million Dollar Man’s boss — how’s that for devoted collecting? Yet screenwriters Carell and Judd Apatow (who also serves as director) always make sure to give the character dimensions and layers. Andy thinks too much of women to want to lose his virginity in easy ways, and he’s so respectful of them that it works against him. In the words of one of his co-workers, “You’re putting the pussy on a pedestal.”

Carell is a comic actor who’s been on a tear lately, starring in the American version of the British tv show The Office and stealing movie scenes from the likes of Jim Carrey (Bruce Almighty) and Will Ferrell (Bewitched and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy). He’s scored some almighty laughs playing obnoxious idiots, but here he’s coruscatingly brilliant in a much more challenging role, portraying Andy as a guy who’s afraid to take that last step into adulthood — you see the fear flicker in his eyes when his colleagues first try to set him up with girls. When Andy finally finds love with Trish (Catherine Keener), a woman who runs a store called We Sell Your Stuff on eBay, there’s real tension in their relationship, which grows more complex despite remaining unconsummated at Trish’s request.

Then again, the above description makes the movie sound more intellectual than it is. After all, it begins with Andy waking up in the morning and trying to deal with a massive erection. Apatow is a tv refugee who’s had plenty of experience writing for neurotic, sexually inexperienced characters on the short-lived shows Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared. Here, he lets loose a ton of jokes that he could never have sprung on network television, and he shows a talent for comic set pieces that you rarely see in movies. There are so many memorable comic scenes here that this film is destined for its own cult following: Andy trying to fake his way through telling a sex story; the trip that results when a roaringly drunk girl (Leslie Mann) gives him a ride home from a bar, an experience that’s so terrifying that it kills the sexual vibe between them; his attempt to find a woman via speed dating; his disastrous initial experience rolling on a condom; his impression of David Caruso while trying to pick up a hot chick at a bookstore (Elizabeth Banks); the Bollywood-style musical number over the end credits. The best scene of all is probably when Andy gets his body hair waxed, which is 10 times funnier if you know that it was real — Carell was having his actual hair ripped out of his chest.

Some of the material in this 116-minute film might have been better left as DVD extras, like the bizarre sexual overtures made to Andy by his boss (Jane Lynch), which don’t lead anywhere. Even so, they’re easy to overlook with everything else that’s here. Paul Rudd, Seth Rogen, and Romany Malco make up a well-oiled support team as Andy’s co-workers. They all have their own rewarding scenes, and a running subplot in which Rudd’s character becomes massively bent out of shape after a chance meeting with his ex-girlfriend (Mindy Kaling) is fantastic stuff.

If The 40-Year-Old Virgin consisted of nothing but these set pieces, it’d be worth repeat viewings on DVD. Because it has a coherent personality at its center, it’s something even better than that. It’s an American comedy classic of our time, worthy of joining Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle and the South Park movie in the pantheon of filthy-minded humor at its best.

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