Virginity. It’s usually the kind of movie concept relegated to lower-than-low-brow teen sexcapades or their Rob Schneider-based equivalents. Beyond a bawdy laugh, comedies such as these are almost instantly forgettable, as pointless as their jokes are lewd. Mostly that’s because these American Pies are hopelessly overblown cliches meant only to satiate the average audience’s taste for prurient comedy.
The 40-Year-Old Virgin gets things right. Why? Because director/writer Judd Apatow understands that comedy can’t really be effective without a dramatic subtext of some kind. For every coarse gag offered in this film, there’s a flicker of humanity behind it, and both are proffered by great, realistic characters.
Andy Stitzer (Steve Carell), the title character here, is a dweeb of the first degree. Clad in tacky, tucked-in polo shirts, he spends his days and nights preening his collectible action figures, playing videogames, reading comics, and generally leading the lifestyle of an insular man-child. No surprise, then, that the guy has managed to go 40 years of his life without doing the nasty. When three of Andy’s acquaintances, who work with him at a Best Buy-like electronics store, stumble onto his secret, they take on the predictably masculine roles of sex-gurus and endeavor to get the guy his first shag.
Unsurprising antics follow, but the way they play out is both hilarious and heartwarming. Carell (who also co-wrote) resists the temptation to play up his character’s plight as merely a farce of sexual inadequacy, but rather entwines it with one innocent man’s struggle to face a world outside childlike pleasures. Similarly, the three boobs (Romany Malco, Seth Rogen, and Paul Rudd) who take it upon themselves to thrust Andy onto the sexual stage reveal themselves to be almost as discomfited by sex as he is, diffusing their anxiety through insecure philandering and paranoia.
Throughout the entirety of the film, Andy grows up little by little as he fumbles through several encounters with women. Ultimately, he finds mature romance with a charming divorcee (played with earthy exuberance by Catherine Keener) who has sex issues of her own. Both characters (well, every character actually) learn that what they’re confronting is not actually sex itself, but the inherent vulnerability of desire.
The journey is slow, but peppered with enough hilariousness to propel the viewer eagerly along. The great thing is, one could watch The 40-Year-Old Virgin without getting a hint of its dramatic underpinnings and still enjoy the hell out of it. It’s truly a remarkable confluence of comedic execution with a heartfelt dash of humanity throughout, and it’s one that both Apatow and Carell should be lauded for.
Phillip Stephens is a movie critic for Pajiba.
The 40-Year-Old Virgin / Phillip Stephens
Film | May 13, 2006 | Comments ()