WFTB Score: 14/20
The plot: Bashful, action figure-collecting tech store worker Andy has a decent life, even if one specific pleasure has always eluded him. Hearing of his predicament, Steve’s colleagues vow to pop Steve’s cherry; but where their schemes falter, the love of a good woman may just prevail.
To borrow two phrases from Douglas Adams, the Smart Tech colleagues of Andy Stitzer (Steve Carell) have always found him pleasant but dull, or more accurately odd but dull. The reason why emerges when Andy’s invited to a poker game and the talk turns to sex matters; whereas stoner Cal (Seth Rogen), unfaithful ‘player’ Jay (Romany Malco) and angry, rejected David (Paul Rudd) are full of spicy tales, Andy flounders and is humiliated when the truth emerges that he’s a virgin, who respects women so much that he steers cleer of them entirely. However, rather than taking the mick, the men make it their goal to get Andy a woman, whether it’s a drunk one – leading Andy into a messy encounter with a pickled Leslie Mann – a random one from speed-dating, or the standby option presented by willing store manager Paula (Jane Lynch). Despite the sometimes less-than-helpful interventions of the boys, Andy makes progress in the store and even manages to start a tentative relationship with customer Trish (Catherine Keener); but will she cope with his little secret, and will he cope with the prospect of putting away childish things and finally becoming – in every sense – a man?
So, first things first. If I’m going to be at all consistent in my pseudo-semi-quasi-liberal-ish approach to films, I must look at The 40-Year-Old Virgin with the same eyes I used when watching Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Superbad. And seen in this light, there are problems: there’s no good excuse for talking about women (as David frequently does) as ‘whores’, or extolling the virtues of ‘tackling drunken bitches’. There’s no good reason (aside from teasing adolescents) for showing porn in a mainstream movie. There’s no justification for the way ‘gay’ is used as an insult, however playfully. And no matter how much you’re prodded to see Andy as the wise man and Cal, Jay and David as the fools, it’s odd that they all get undeserved happy endings – Jay’s forgiven for his infidelity because his wife’s pregnant? David meets his equal in bitterness? Bleh.
But the truth is – and I’m afraid this is just as true for the ‘How I know you’re gay’ stuff as the rest of it – is that the film is rude, crude and consistently very funny. From Mooj’s (Gerry Bednob) filthy pearls of wisdom to Rogen and Rudd’s freewheeling banter, or Jane Lynch’s inspired surrealisms, The 40-Year-Old Virgin regularly hits the mark, even in the patience-stretching 127-minute version I have. You get the idea no-one quite knew what was going to come out of anyone’s mouths next, which makes for a naughty, fresh experience, even if the Apatow/Rogen axis has beaten the formula into the ground innumerable times since.
Crucially, the likes of Knocked Up and its kind don’t have the blessings of Steve Carell and Catherine Keener to bolster the story. Carell, making his international breakthrough here, is very funny and retains a modicum of dignity throughout – Andy‘s unconventional but he’s no weirdo, and his stature increases as he gains in confidence through the film. Keener, meanwhile, performs marvels in making Trish a realistic, interesting and thoroughly believable character (aided in no small part by screen daughters Kat Dennings and Chelsea Smith). Simply put, you want Andy and Trish to make it, regardless of whether or not they make, er, ‘it’. Carell and Keener are the key to the film not merely being another Apatow sex comedy with as many duff moments (here, Jay’s exaggerated attitude or Elizabeth Banks’ demeaning ‘freak’) as funny bits. That said, the really funny scenes are bona fide classics: Andy’s visit to the waxing salon is probably the best and best known, but I equally love the silliness of the final, post-coital gag.
Part of me should be appalled at The 40-Year-Old Virgin, but not much of me is; for while there are traces of the chauvinistic, lazy and frankly nasty traits that would be a hallmark of later Apatow productions, here the focus is mostly in the right place – on two people who feel real, balanced, and respectful of each others’ emotions. Actually, even when it’s not, it’s still – for the most part – a hoot. A fruity if not particularly wholesome adult treat, The 40-Year-Old Virgin is a good film, even if it can’t escape its [Super]bad legacy.