A film review by Craig J. Koban
THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN
2005, R, 116 mins.
Steve Carell /
Trish: Catherine Keener /
David: Paul Rudd / Jay: Romany Malco / Ca: Seth Rogen / Haziz: Shelley Malil
/ Beth: Elizabeth Banks
Meet Andy Stitzer.
He’s sort of that quintessentially withdrawn, quiet, and solitary man that always seems to lurk around a corner without making himself noticed. You know – the kind of guy you know is always there, but is so unassuming and meager that you can never fully remember his name. He works by day in one of those fantastic electronic stores that has toys that will entice any man’s fancy. At home Andy is largely a reclusive figure who spends his nights exercising, playing video games, reading his favourite issue of THE INCREDIBLE HULK, and painting miniature figurines.
His home is the embodiment of a 12-year-old boy's fantasy of what an apartment should look like. He has his walls decked out with comic book posters and has his shelves literally bombarded by collectable action figures from the past. He has the usual cool and eclectic assortment of figures, ranging from Aquaman to The Six Million Dollar Man. He even has the ultra-rare, incredibly difficult to find figure of Steve Austin’s boss, which Andy very quickly and matter-of-factly fesses up is “worth a great deal and is more valuable in its unopened condition.” Yes, Andy does not seem to get out too much.
He makes paranoid social introverts look like Vince Vaughn after a double shot of espresso and a pack of cigarettes. He’s amazingly awkward around other people, especially his co-workers, who all seem to acknowledge his existence, but really have no clue of who he is or what kind of person hides underneath his meek exterior (one co-worker thinks him to be a serial killer because, after all, they are always the unassuming ones).
Needless to say, Andy has a hard time getting into the daily groove of life in general. Whatever he does not understand or comprehend he either tries to completely avoid or act his way through it. He hates confrontations and pretty much cringes at the idea of socializing with anyone in general. His dream night is being alone by himself to think of the best way to prepare an egg salad sandwich. One night he manages to have three hours of free time and spends so much time shopping for the best ingredients to make the sandwich that he ultimately forgets to get the bread. Oh well, there is always the next night of available time to actually make the sandwich. His schedule is remarkably free, it seems.
Oh, Andy is also 40 years old and, if my description was not apt enough to allow you to draw your own conclusions, he is most certainly a virgin.
THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN is like one of those deceptive little cinematic curve balls - just when you think it’s going to be thrown at you straight down the plate (as you would expect) it manages to change course completely and hoodwink you rather quickly. As soon as I heard that there was a film comedy coming out with that fairly innocuous and wacky title, images immediately came to mind – this obviously was going to be one of those gross-out, R-rated raunchy festivals of the absurd and grotesque that seems tailored for that all-too-wide teen demographic.
Well...it actually is all of that, but the one thing that ultimately shocked me about this film is the fact that it’s not a film for young people. This is one of those rare adult comedies with adult content for adults. It chronicles, celebrates, mocks, lampoons, and sympathizes (in odd ways) with the plight of the average middle-aged male. This film is incredibly disgusting in some of its imagery, not to mention that it’s relentlessly foul, crude, cornball, and irrepressibly frank with its sexual and scatological content. Yet, this film achieves an outstandingly focused balancing act. It succeeds miraculously by taking a one note premise that might have not even carried a five minute SNL sketch and instead carves out a nearly two hour film that balances bawdy sight gags, vulgar and guileless dialogue, and a lot of images of bodily fluids that defy gravity in ways never before presented on screen with...tenderness.
This film, as weird as it may seem, has a heart. It has a main character that is truly a nice and warm figure which allows our buy-in easier and makes us want to cheer him on from getting some action with himself to getting some action with someone else. This is not a stupid, brainless comedy. This film has a perplexing charm about it with a sort of buried undercurrent of heartfelt sentiment. It also has some characters that feel real and grounded. The film is a strange little comic masterpiece of vulnerability, confusion, self-apathy, and clammy uneasiness and that’s ultimately what makes it truly memorable.
Andy Stitzer is a sympathetic figure that we actually grow to care for and relate to, even when we roll our eyes with complete and utter incredulity at his Inspector Clouseau level of painful ineptitude. Okay, so much of the more overt and graphic physical comedy comes at his expense and involves urine, body hair, and vomit, but the key here is how the character resonates within us. Gross-out comedy only works when we feel for the main character and sympathize with him/her. If we hate them, then there is nothing better than seeing them covered in fished-filled vomit. Remember that awkward moment of the first date in THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARRY where Ben Stiller inadvertently gives Cameron Diaz what she thinks is hair gel? We don’t laugh at the sight of the special substance; we laugh at the situation and how it affects Stiller’s character, who we root for. If we loathed him, the film's jokes would have tanked.
Andy’s character is much the same way. Steve Carell plays him in a delicate and nuanced performance. He is not reprising his mentally challenged role of Brick, the weather man with an IQ of 48 from ANCHORMAN, nor is he one of those typical dim-witted and dense figures that would populate lesser sex comedies. Yes, he does play the role very broadly at times, especially in one uproariously funny montage when we see him getting his chest waxed, but beyond Carell’s daft and capricious glee for all things over-the-top lurks a sweet, tender, compassionate, and sensitive man.
His performance is a strangely effective jigsaw puzzle in a way - he’s both boisterous and lewd when he tries to talk like a ladies man and fails miserably; he’s got a huge reserve of intense comic energy that would make Will Ferrell blush; and he’s in outrageous moments when he manages to urinate on himself in a way I would have never thought possible. But Carell also has quieter, introspective moments where we feel his sensations of incompetence and failure. Carell just may give one of the best performances of the year – he manages to be engaged simultaneously in both lowbrow physical comedy and is sly, innocent, and endearing in the kinder moments.
I guess we can immediately relate to Andy because we all can claim to have had stunning and crushing defeats in past gender wars. A few flashbacks distinctively show why Andy grew disdainful and bored with sex in general. His so-called “friends” at the electronic store don’t make it any easier for him. If there were ever a group of people that any 40-year-old virgin would not want to be around, it would be these potty-talking, sex-starved, and girl-loving troglodytes. Unfortunately for Andy, he is coaxed into attending a late-night poker game where the men start discussing their more naughty sexual proclivities and escapades. Needless to say, when it’s Andy’s turn, he is so hopelessly unconvincing that, rather quickly, the guys surmise that he is a virgin, which they sort of treat as a disease that must be cured ASAP.
The men around Andy are all wonderfully realized characters of narcissistic male ego and sexist, chauvinistic, and ignorant self-bliss. There is David (the very funny Paul Rudd) who still carries a torch for a woman that dumped him years ago, and all despite the fact that he caught her performing oral sex on another man. He obviously can't take a hint. Then there is Jay (Romany Malco) who prides himself on being a consummate ladies man and refers to women in a vernacular that perhaps shows his secret hidden insecurities with them. Then there is Carl (Seth Rogen) as the Yoda of ladies advice (his teachings to Andy range from “Date whores and drunks, get busy with them, then have sex with someone you care about so that your small experience you've gained won’t make you look completely hapless” and in the funniest girl advice ever given, “Be like David Caruso in the movie JADE.”).
All of the men try to impart their collective knowledge on the desperate Andy, but the more terrible nuggets of wisdom that they spoon feed him the more Andy realizes that (a) they are completely ignorant and dumb and (b) these guys have no idea of how to please a lady. He soon understands that each man may be hiding their own emotional wounds and issues with the fairer sex, not to mention their own inherent homophobia (terrifically displayed in one hilarious moment with two of the men in front of a big screen TV playing video games). Andy’s first attempts at dates with them egging him on go completely horrible, that is until he meets the lovely and kind-hearted Trish.
It is here when the film soon develops a pulse. The great Catherine Keener plays Trish, a local girl that runs an eBay store across the street from Andy. It’s clear that he likes her, but he is so overcome with shyness and a lack of confidence that when she gives him her number he literally asks her, “What do I do with this?” Their first meeting is performed by Carell and Keener relatively straight and their overall relationship acts as a unique foil to the rest of the film’s horny high jinks. As the film progresses I was stunned at the level of perfect subtlety they both display with their respective roles and how the screenplay manages to have the time to be sincere and offer insights into both of their lives. We know Andy’s “problem”, but Trish is a woman that also has issues. Maybe she clings to Andy because she has been with filth before. Andy is the affable, charming, and reserved man she desperately wants now, even if she has no clue that he is clearly not God’s gift to women in the sack.
Trish may appear like an ill conceived and tacked on plot contrivance. She is there to more or less open up Andy’s hidden confidence and ultimately let him know that, hey, it’s okay to be a virgin and 40. Yet, their chemistry is so palpable, engaging, and congenial and we grow to love them so much that I started to feel like I was watching a different film altogether. I loved the dynamic between the two in the way they play off one another. Andy is very worried because he feels that a woman of her experience will hate the fact that he’s had no action ever and that he owns lots of action figures. Trish, on the other hand, is worried that she'll screw up equally with a guy that she sees as a fresh opportunity for her to take her life in a different direction. Much like the characters from FEVER PITCH from earlier this year, Carell and Keener don’t play their roles to adhere to rigid stereotypes or one-dimensionality – they dig deeper and establish characters of surprising depth and complexity.
I never, ever in a million years would have thought that I'd place a film called THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN on my list of some of 2005’s best films. The film not only has the comic tenacity and consistency of the best comedies that I have seen, but beneath all of the gaudy sight gags and unsophisticated banter (it is very appropriately rated R), the film has a dignity that carries it above its lowbrow antics. Not only did this film make me laugh harder than any other comedy of recent memory, but it also, at the end of the day, made me really care about its characters, a trait that is utterly lost on lesser, more unsophisticated sex comedies. In terms of this genre, THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN stands high above the rest and is a winning amalgamation of sensibilities of Woody Allen and The Farrelly Brothers. It is a a film where you'll not only laugh at the clumsiness of its participants, but you'll feel their struggles through bitter social roadblocks and urge them to final victory. THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN is a masterful mix of the offensive and clever. It never feels that it is too low to go for the most depraved joke, but it also tries to achieve a level of sophistication and compassion that I have rarely seen in a normal sex romp.