Geek of the Day
Barry the Bachelor
Start your own Cult
As I walked out of the multiplex after seeing The 40 Year-Old Virgin, I made a comment to my party about some of the props used in the film. I mentioned that in one scene in Andy Stitzer's kitchen, there is a bootleg version of the Japanese Beast Wars Neo toy Heinrad. Heinrad is a robot that transforms into a Japanese character called a "tanuki", a magical raccoon-like animal (think of Super Mario 3.) As avid readers of this site will know, I am a fan of not only action figures, but have a soft spot for cheap knockoffs of them. The original toy, I mention, has a clock in its belly; while the bootleg, available in the last couple years at Big Lots discount stores and found in my own collection, not only is molded in a different colored plastic, has a yin yang in the clock's place. Andy is a serious toy collector, so it seems out of place that something as cheap as this toy would have made it in to his apartment.
The other folks in my party pointed and laughed at me. Sure, I deserved the ridicule and embarassment. But I only mention this little anecdote because it illustrates this basic idea: I walked out of seeing this film with only one complaint, and it was about a three-dollar prop.
I say all of this because The 40 Year-Old Virgin is really a fantastic film. Really. With a title like that, you'd probably expect a mindless sex comedy that would go to home video faster than an encounter between Tommy Lee and Paris Hilton, but this film is a lot more than meets the eye. It's not only one of the funniest films I've seen in ages, it's probably the best film I've seen so far this year.
First and foremost behind the film's success is Steve Carell, who stars as Andy, the titular celibate. Carell, for those who don't know, has been one of The Daily Show's best fake news guys for years now, and parlayed that success into hysterical fake news guys in Bruce Almighty and Anchorman. While Carell might look like the average Joe you'd see on the street, the guy's comedic timing is flawless, and he's got this certain intangible charm that just guarantees he's going to be a star. Carell takes a character that could easily be one-dimensional and turns him into one of the most likeable guys we've ever met on celluloid.
By all logic, Andy should be a stereotype. I mean, he's a toy collector who hangs framed Mystery Science Theater 3000 and prog-rock band Asia posters on his wall. He spends his weekends cooking for himself and painting pewter figurines. His idea of a wild night is playing video games on his big screen TV or joining his elderly neighbors for this week's episode of Survivor. He rides his bicycle to his job as a stock manager at a big-box electronics store. And, of course, he has yet to taste the sweet nectar of carnal knowledge.
Sounds like a walking cliche, right? It seems as the last sentence in the above paragraph is the result of he other factors mentioned, but that's not the case. Andy is a virgin because he wants to be. It's a conscious decision. He surrounds himself with the other stimuli to keep his mind busy. On the inside, as we slowly see Andy's character come in to fruition, he's a shy, sweet, intelligent man who would have a cartel of friends and a booming social life if someone would give him the chance to.
This is where the supporting players come in and really help put the puzzle together. When Andy's coworkers (who wonder if he's a serial killer) need a fifth for a Poker game, they call upon him to join in. It's at this first encounter that we learn his dark secret: he thinks that breasts feel like bags of sand. His new friends make it their mission to get Andy laid, but it's not going to be as easy a task as they expected. Not because Andy repulses anyone, mind you, but because he's just not ready to give it up with some of the options he's presented.
But Andy's coworkers are real people too, as we learn slowly as well. The way they interact with one another, the decisions they all make in own romantic and sexual lives, and the way they take Andy in as one of their own all helps spell this out. The actors involved (Paul Rudd, Seth Rogen, and Romany Malco) are all integral in keeping the movie flowing. I'm reminded of a few other smart comedies from the last ten years or so with ensemble casts: Office Space, Swingers, and probably some others that don't feature Ron Livingston.
There's not a whole lot of plot to speak about, but that's not really a problem. Andy spends the course of the film trying to experience some sort of relationship with women, usually to hilarious results. His first encounter comes from an alcoholic party girl (Leslie Mann) who lets Andy know firsthand what she had for dinner. His wannabe-player friend Jay sends Andy to a hotel room to meet up with a hooker who seems to have a few parts that he wasn't expecting. Andy has a few teased moments with a bookstore clerk who winds up being a little more than he can handle. A round of speed-dating winds up proving to be unhealthy for everyone involved. But Andy knows that he's found the right one when he meets Trish (Catherine Keener,) a middle-aged woman who makes her living on eBay.
The fact that Keener didn't annoy the piss out of me is a miracle unto itself, but the fact that she's actually likeable here is a testament to the fact that everything in this film works. Her relationship with Andy is a treat to watch unfurl, and includes as many sweet moments as it does awkward ones. All the while, of course, Andy's "secret" looms beneath the surface.
The most imporant thing that ties this all together is the fact that it's all so real. The way these folks interact, the situations they are put in, and the little nuances that make these characters stand out almost make you feel like you're in the film with these folks. The one thing that does get pulled from fantasy, which also happens to be the last scene in the movie, is perfectly placed.
But while this movie is smart and touching, it doesn't change the fact that it's incredibly funny. In fact, it even gets to be raunchy and risque. It's simply amazing that someone got it right -- it is possible to make an R-rated comedy with a heart. Everyone was praising The Wedding Crashers for pulling this off earlier this summer, but The 40 Year-Old Virgin blows it out of the water.
The movie is a bit long for its type, clocking in at almost two hours. But to be honest, I was almost hoping it would go on longer. I could have stood to spend a lot more time with Andy and his friends.
Director Judd Apatow (who co-wrote the film with Carell) has earned high marks for his work on The Larry Sanders Show, Freaks and Geeks, and Undeclared, and now has a hell of a first feature under his belt. It'll be tough to follow up, but if he can lure even half of the players that made Virgin work so well back for it, I'll be there on opening night. But for now, I'm going to begin my letter writing campaign to the Academy of Motion Picure Arts and Sciences to consider Carell as a candidate for Best Actor at next year's Oscars. If the Academy has any balls, he'll be seriously considered for a nod.
For questions, comments, or the occasional stalking letter, send mail to Noel Wood. Please give proper credit when using any materials found within this site.