The 40 Year-Old Virgin Review
What’s most likeable about The 40 Year Old Virgin is what it isn’t. In summary, it sounds like an unbearably smug ‘lads movie’ in which drinking and screwing are elevated to the position of fine arts and women are little more than receptacles for a series of macho assumptions. There are certainly moments in the film which head in this direction – albeit ones which are touched with a certain wit that raises them above the norm – but the overall effect is not only unusually funny but also weirdly touching because you come to realise that this is a movie which does that rare thing; it genuinely likes its characters.
Steve Carell, an actor who stole Anchorman right out from under Will Ferrell at the mortifyingly nerdy weatherman Brick Tamland, plays Andy, the eponymous virgin of the title whose inviolable purity is inadvertently revealed to his work colleagues, all of whom decide to help him score with a woman. Several classic scenes of mortification follow – Andy has his chest waxed, is vomited upon, waxed, set-up with a statuesque transvestite, taken to an almost unwatchably embarrassing ‘Date a Palooza’ session, - until he meets, by accident, Trish (Keener), who runs a store across the street. With the not-entirely useful assistance of his workmates - David (Rudd), Cal (Rogen) and Jay (Malco) - he embarks on a course of seduction, not realising that Trish is just as keen on him as he is on her.
Andy isn’t as instantly funny a character as Brick Tamland, largely because he’s much more self-aware. But he’s very likeable, his virginity being the result of a series of disastrous experiences rather than a strictly observed moral code. He’s simply given up despite such obvious reminders as a case of morning glory which you could hang a hat on. The film treats his virginity with surprising respect – it’s not considered funny in itself and characters tend to be less amused by it than completely baffled. There are underlying messages here about self-respect and the ways in which sex can become self-defining rather than an expression between two people but they aren’t stamped upon. Sex is also seen as being essentially comic rather than steamily exciting, something with which I can certainly identify. On a slightly more negative note, it would be possible to see the film as a moral tract about how sex is never satisfying unless it’s part of a marriage but I think that would be to both take the film too seriously and confuse its very specific telling of Andy’s story with an unintentional universal message.
The delicious irony here, however, is that Andy’s friends, who spend the first half of the film telling him about their incredible sex lives, turn out to be just as lovably nerdy as the virgin himself. Like Anchorman, the film takes care to surround the hero with a supporting cast of comic characters who get laughs from virtually everything they say, whether it’s giving Andy the advice that to attract women he should behave like David Caruso in Jade or casually discussing the dubious delights of a Mexican sex-show. Seth Rogen is particularly funny as the bearlike Cal (who resembles Randall ‘Tex’ Cobb after a diet and a wash) and Romany Malco comes through with some superb ethnic humour as the would-be player Jay who knows considerably less about women than he pretends. But it’s Paul Rudd who comes through with the most unexpectedly touching moments, playing the emotionally frustrated David who hasn’t entered a relationship for two years because he’s still hung-up on his old flame. It’s this which partially engineers the best written comic set-piece in the whole film, a lengthy stand-off between David and Jay in which each of them explains how he knows for sure that the other is gay. This threatens to be obvious and cheaply homophobic but it soon reaches blissfully abstract levels – reasons include “I saw you make a spinach dip in a loaf of sour dough bread once.”, “Because you macramed yourself a pair of jean shorts” and the clincher, “You like Coldplay.” This is later topped when the Indian salesman Haziz gets the entirely appropriate last laugh. The film also has the wit to turn clichés on their heads – for example, the ice-queen boss turns out to be a benevolent pothead whose idea of fun is to watch Gandhi while stoned.
Now don’t get me wrong. The 40 Year Old Virgin contains the regulation amount of grossout and non-PC comedy. Andy’s encounter with a recidivist drunk-driver is an irresistible set-piece of escalating comic-horror with a cracking punch-line. Along with the Indian Haziz there is a Pakistani salesman called Mooj (the hysterically funny Muslim comedian Gerry Bednob) included for the purpose of exchanging breathtakingly tasteless insults with Jay – epithet of choice being “Go fuck a goat” - which would remind you of a typical episode of “The Comedians” were it not for the obvious glee which the actors take in guying the expectations raised by their ethnicity. “What you think we are, Al Quaida?” says Haziz who later observes of Jay‘s mood, “Today’s forecast, dark and stormy. With chance of drive-by.” The film – written by Carell and directed Judd Apatow - also gets away with some edgy comedy in a therapy session for teenagers and their parents during which David Koechner from Anchorman takes the honours by portraying a father who isn’t so much angry at his sexually active teenage son as jealous.
But what makes the film so pleasant to watch is the care it takes with the characters of Andy and Trish. I can’t recall the last time I saw a comedy and felt genuine affection towards the leading characters but I think I would be going back to some of the recent classics of the romantic comedy genre such as Roxanne and Groundhog Day. The comparison is apt because, at heart, The 40 Year Old Virgin is a romantic comedy about how Andy and Trish overcome a complex set of circumstances - and neuroses - to get together. This may well be an irritant to fans of gross-out comedy but it allows the movie to break out of the clichés and become something more complex and interesting, albeit rather more mainstream. Steve Carell plays Andy very winningly and with a surprising degree of naturalism, turning a one-joke idea into the most three-dimensional character he has yet played. Taken together, The 40 Year Old Virgin, Anchorman and the increasingly impressive US version of The Office suggest that Carell is going to be one of the major comic talents of the immediate future.
Another reason to welcome this film is that it finally - finally - gives the magisterial Catherine Keener a decent film role. Since she tore up the screen in the ridiculously undervalued Your Friends and Neighbours and Being John Malkovich, she’s been the best thing in more films than I can count –her brief appearances during The Interpreter were the highlight of that dreary film – and to see her in a big role is sheer delight. She’s the kind of actress who should be getting big, meaty parts in important films but such is the state of modern cinema that she’s got to make do with a bit of pleasant fluff like The 40 Year Old Virgin. Keener must be the stuff of a writer’s dreams; can make a bad line sound funny and she lavishes the kind of attention on a good line which makes it sound twice as good - “I have condoms here. Check the expiration date because they’re from when I was married” she says, with just the right overtones of cynicism and mild desperation that most divorcees will be able to identify with.
The 40 Year Old Virgin takes you aback with its determination to celebrate love and romance over the attractions of casual sex without being either moralistic or simplistic – or pretending that sex isn’t fun. Andy and Trish’s connection is drawn in broad strokes but the fine details are gradually filled in until we’re watching a very credible relationship. There’s a sequence in which they make each other laugh in such a natural manner that you think yes, these people are meant to be together. No-one could possibly give the film any awards for subtlety but when you think how superficial most modern comedies are, it’s very refreshing to see completely achieved performances like those of Carell and Keener. Technically, the film is often no more than functional – some scenes go on far too long such as Andy’s visit to a nymphomaniac bookseller’s apartment – and the cinematography by Jack Green doesn’t have the kind of visual imagination which might have made the film a comedy classic. I also have to say that any comedy running over two hours is almost certainly in need of some ruthless editing. But it’s constantly witty and observant and the little details –the use of Joe Scarbury’s MOR kitsch classic “Believe It Or Not” as the backing to a montage, the final deliriously silly song and dance to “The Age of Aquarius” – are just perfect. It’s the kind of movie which can leave you with a dizzy glow of happiness.
As you would expect from such a recent release, The 40 Year Old Virgin comes to DVD in the peak of condition. Universal’s anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer is crystal clear with strong colours and no obvious problems. There is plenty of vivid detail and a pleasing sharpness without the perils of over-enhancement. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is also very good. This kind of movie which is largely dialogue-based doesn’t give your speakers a particularly thorough work out but the music is nicely enveloping and ambient effects sometimes fill in the surrounds. Most importantly, the dialogue is crisp and clear throughout.
This is an extended version of the film which contains 17 minutes of extra scenes. This certainly makes it overlong but there’s surprisingly few dead spots. Considering the overwhelming ‘adultness’ of the comedy throughout, it’s hard to describe this version as more extreme but it’s worth seeing simply for the sequence in which Mooj tells Andy that he will pray for his cock.
The extras are not particularly extensive but it’s a nice enough package. We get an amusing commentary* which features Judd Apatow, Steve Carell, Shelley Malil, Seth Rogen, Gerry Bednob, Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, Jane Lynch and Romany Malco. It’s very broad and a little bit incoherent at times with so many people competing for attention but there are some good laughs and the participants obviously have a lot of affection for each other and the film. I’m not a big fan of this sort of commentary track but of its type it’s a good one. Along with this we get some extended scenes, the best of which is the extended “You know how I know you’re gay” sequence. This, along with the others, has optional commentary. The extended "Date a Palooza" scene is often very funny indeed but this isn't surprising since it's one of the best moments in the film. Fans of invective will find this particularly valuable. “Andy’s Fantasies” is more sexually explicit in this version but not funnier, largely because it’s too long and even the director admits that it makes him uncomfortable. There are also six deleted scenes included – with optional commentary – and it’s easy to see why they were snipped. “The First Time Karaoke” is quite funny but belongs in a different film.
Apart from the deleted and extended scenes, there are a few other minor features. "My Dinner With Stormy" is a kind of interview between Seth Rogen and adult film star Stormy Daniels which runs two minutes and seems to have no obvious reason for existing. “Line-o-rama” contains a series of improvisations and riffs on particular dialogue moments. Some of these are very funny indeed, as you’d expect with such a gifted cast of comedians. My personal favourites include “I’d rather sew up my vagina than look at you” and the very strange “I used to think Matt Damon really kind-of needed a beat-down.” The gag reel is the usual collection of corpsing and general childishness which will either make you laugh or have you reaching for the remote control. Finally, we get trailers for Skeleton Key and Serenity but not, oddly, for this movie.
Incidentally, the extras menus are very badly laid out with the deleted scenes coming right in the middle of the extended scenes.
The film has optional subtitles in English as do all of the extras with the exception of the commentary (sadly) and the trailers.
*Please note that for reasons unknown the audio commentary has been removed from the final retail DVD, so please do not base any purchase on your interest in this particular extra feature. The Unrated Region 1 DVD release does contain the commentary track.
Last updated: 22/04/2018 23:35:51