August 25, 2005
40-Year-Old Virgin (R)
by Amy Diaz
Steve Carell gives us a
nookie-less geek complete with heart, brain and libido in the sweetly
funny The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
I feel that we as a
movie-going people have been burned this summer by promises of
raunchy-yet-smart sex comedies. The buildup around Wedding Crashers
seemed particularly cruel as it dangled the R rating in front of us but
ultimately failed to deliver with its collection of limp sex jokes and
limper plot. Who would have expected that a movie released in late
August, a movie starring a rising but still-small star of TV, could be
able to command not just our attention but our admiration?
The 40-Year-Old Virgin
may not be the grown-up comedy that has movie studios suddenly cheering
the R rating but after months of barely mediocre films we finally have a
comedy that aims high and actually reaches a mark significantly above
Andy (Carell) is
himself above average in certain areas ó his collection of action
figures, for example, and his dedication to bike-riding as a means of
transportation. Heís even above average at playing poker, though three
fellow employees at a big-box electronics store donít know that when
they invite him to play. David (Paul Rudd), Jay (Romany Malco) and Cal
(Seth Rogen) think that have a sucker on their hands until they get
cleaned out by this Internet poker expert. But Andy takes it one bluff
too far ó joining in on sex talk when the conversation steers to girls.
Heís clearly reciting nothing but a collection of phrases heís heard
elsewhere, and the guys quickly realize that Andyís not just committing
a little romantic inflation but completely making up his experience.
Having discovered a virgin in their midst, the guys first make fun of
him (naturally) but then begin a quest to get Andy laid.
As Andy is schooled in
the arts of love by teachers whose own experience isnít exactly stellar,
he slowly begins to face life as a grown-up, especially when he begins a
tentative relationship with Trish (Catherine Keener). A divorced mother
of three (grandmother of one), sheís a little tentative herself, much to
the relief of Andy. But with so many years of inexperience, Andyís love
for Trish canít quite seem to keep his anxiety from growing as the date
of their first sexual encounter approaches.
Whatís most surprising
about The 40-Year-Old Virgin is that while Andy is clearly portrayed as
shaky and freaked-out in the adult world, he isnít treated like some
sort of imbecile. Andy is an absolute slave to fear, not just of the
actual act of sex but also of taking chances, of trusting people, of
letting go of the old (a room full of never-removed-from-box action
figures, for example) to make room for something new (Trishís surly but
ultimately savvy teenage daughter). Because fear, not some
pre-adolescent aversion to sex, is the reason for his celibate life, he
doesnít turn into some creepy man-child but is shown simply as a deeply
flawed grown-up. By starting from this very normal human emotion (albeit
greatly exaggerated), The 40-Year-Old Virgin avoids one-note, empty
comedy and gets its laughs from our identification with extremely
awkward social comedy. (No surprise if you consider writer/director Judd
Apatowís Freaks and Geeks beginnings.) Much like recent Farrelly
brothers movies, the surprise injection of heart into this goofy tale
gives the humor extra heft, making the gross-out jokes (there are a few)
and slapstick (yeah, that too) effective bits of punctuation, not a
steady, monotonous beat.
The 40-Year-Old Virgin
is not as sharp as Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle or as stomach-crampingly
funny as School of Rock, but after this summerís laughter drought,
Carellís little charmer is a bit of sweet relief.