Friday Film Focus: The 40-Year-Old Virgin

Image Source: Variety

The 40-Year-Old Virgin was released 14 years ago today. And, to cut to the chase: It holds up. It may even have gotten better with age. That’s likely because The 40-Year-Old Virgin wasn’t simply, then or now, a “sex comedy,” as Wikipedia delightfully puts it. It was also the film that put Judd Apatow, who’d won a small, devoted fan base with the TV shows Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, on the mainstream map. It was the film that launched (almost) a thousand bromantic comedies. It was the film that established Apatow not just as a Hollywood king (and, much more interestingly, queen)-maker, but also as a kind of cultural critic.

The film is surprisingly insightful, as buddy comedies go, and it has a good heart and a lovable hero. Living by himself in an apartment brimming with dorky action figures, video games, and posters of dragons and Asia (the band), 40-year-old Andy Stitzer (Steve Carell) is indeed a virgin, after early defeats in the gender wars turned him into a non-combatant. Carell, best known as a team player on The Daily Show and The Office earns top-banana status as Andy. He is flat-out hilarious. See him wake up with morning wood and pee in his own face. Hear him talk to his collectible action figures; he repaints them on weekends when he’s not making the perfect egg-salad sandwich.

Andy is one of those guys whose life is a workaround. What he doesn’t understand, he avoids, finesses or fakes. On the job at the electronics superstore where he works, his fellow employees spend a lot of time talking about women, and he nods as if he speaks the language. Watch him try to fake macho with his co-workers at a Smart Tech store by saying that when you touch a woman’s breast, it feels like sand. That nails it. And the guys — Paul Rudd, Seth Rogen and Romany Malco could not be funnier — spend the rest of the movie trying to find a woman to bust his cherry.

The buddies are wonderfully cast. David (Rudd) is still hopelessly in love with a woman who has long since outgrown any possible interest in him; Jay ( Malco) is a ladies’ man who considers himself an irresistible seducer, and Cal (Rogen) is the guy with practical guidance, such as “date drunks” and “never actually say anything to a woman; just ask questions.”

All these guys have problems of their own, and seem prepared to pass them on to Andy as advice. With an R-rated premise custom-made for pleasurably awkward erotic encounters, Apatow’s big-screen directorial debut repeatedly nails the lewd comedic G-spot thanks to Carell.

Carell (who co-wrote the script) is funniest when maintaining a poker-face during dirty talk with a woman who wants to engage in some sensual pubic shaving or screaming stream-of-consciousness obscenities (“Kelly Clarkson!”) at a beauty parlor employee during a horrific chest hair-waxing-gone-awry. Andy would just as soon stay home and play with his action figures. But his friends consider it a sacred mission to end his 40-year drought.

In a singles bar, he separates a tipsy babe from the crowd; his alarm should have gone off when she asks him to blow into the breathalyzer so she can start her car. In a bookstore he asks a cute sales clerk one question after another, which works charmingly until she finds out he has no answers. A speed-dating session is attempted, giving the movie an opportunity to assemble a little anthology of pickup cliches. But Andy sets a more daunting task for himself than getting laid: finding one woman, building a relationship and making it stick.

Her name is Trish (Catherine Keener), a divorced mom of three and the grandma of one. She runs a store across the mall, where you can take in your stuff and she’ll sell it on eBay. Andy knows right away that he really likes her, but he’s paralyzed by shyness and fear. The terrific Catherine Keener plays her with such sexy warmth that this cinematic stag party, loaded with “know how I know you’re gay” jokes, actually grows a heart.

The best reason the movie works is because Steve Carell and Catherine Keener have a rare kind of chemistry that is maybe better described as mutual sympathy. Keener’s inspiration is to have Trish see Andy not as a challenge, but as an opportunity. The film is often outright hilarious when it’s not being all heartfelt and sensitive, as it mostly is during its second hour, when the shenanigans subside and the romance takes over. Apatow genuinely loves his hero, and The 40 Year Old Virgin continues to be a masterpiece of comedy and heart.