Hippo Manchester
August 25, 2005


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The 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 average.

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.