Saturday, February 7, 2009
I swear, every time I sit down with this film, I have this preconceived notion that it's not quite as funny as people claim, that I think its edge has dulled a bit, then I actually watch the film and laugh as hard as I did the first time. If you held a gun to my head and demanded I explain why I continue to think the film will hold nothing for me when it always keeps me completely entertained, I'd have no answer for you. While Forgetting Sarah Marshall may very well eclipse 40YOV as the chief representative of Apatow Productions in my book, this will likely stand as the best thing Apatow himself directed for some time to come.
Based on a concept originally conceived by Steve Carell in his Second City days, The 40-Year-Old Virgin is one of those films that tells you everything you need to know right in the title. Carell plays the lead, Andy Stitzer, a genial, socially awkward nerd who works the stockroom of an electronics store. He knows all the ins and outs of the hardware, but he's too shy to be a salesman. At home, his walls are packed with mint condition action figures worth a small fortune, but of course he'd never sell them. He's bit of a stereotypical nerd, yes, but with enough charm to at least bend the archetype if not break free of it.
At work, his colleagues waver between sympathy for Andy's maladjustment and fear that he might one day kill them all. After all, he looks like the last person in the world who'd snap, and those are the ones you have to keep an eye on. Eventually David (Paul Rudd), Cal (Seth Rogen) and Jay (Romany Malco) invite him to a poker game, where they all end up sharing lurid stories of past sexcapades, and press Andy for an anecdote of his own. At last, the truth comes out: Andy's still a virgin.
For the rest of the film, these three do everything in their power to get their new pal laid: they teach Andy how to interact with women and how to attract them, but Andy resists. Most of the information he gets from his friends is emotionless and sexist, designed solely to lead to a one-night stand, but he wants an actual relationship. Nevertheless, he does follow his friends to clubs and even manages to pick up a thoroughly trashed young woman (played by Leslie Mann) and ride home with her in an achingly funny scene.
Slowly his friends bring out some confidence in Andy, and he not only lands a spot on the sales floor but meets Trish (Catherine Keener), a sweet woman who runs a store across the street that sells people's unwanted junk on Ebay. Why would anyone use a middleman for Ebay? No one knows, and it's a recurring joke, though thankfully it only gets mentioned a few times. Trish is roughly the same age as Andy and a mother of three, one of whom has a child of her own. Though the two hit it off and she wants to sleep with Andy, sex isn't high on her list of priorities, either.
The middle sags a bit, as it apparently must with AP movies, but then again I'm watching the unrated cut. I never got to see this in theaters because of age limits, so I made do with the DVD.* Several scenes, chiefly the Date-a-Palooza, drag on to get in repetitive gags that weren't even that funny to begin with. I also have a beef with Kat Denning's character. Since the film I've come to enjoy her, but her character here forces her to be in hysterics the whole time spouting absolute nonsense to her mother like "How come you get to have sex when I can't?!" which is nightmarishly stupid even by self-absorbed teenager standards. She eventually bottoms out into a likable character, but it's evidence of the weak female roles that populate most of the films Apatow puts his name to these days.
Nevertheless, even in this extended version--17 minutes longer than the original cut--The 40-Year-Old Virgin is well-paced and screamingly funny from start to finish. If Knocked Up contains just enough laughs to be worth it, this goes above and beyond the call of duty. Only one or two scenes really falter, and the rest get across both laughs and heart without having to gear-shift between them. Apart from Dennings' bawling teen brat (I refuse to blame her for what was simply a bad character) and Keener's narrowly-defined role, everyone puts in great work and every character (even Dennings') gets at least one big laugh. There are a few obvious moments--like Andy's saccharine lines to Trish near the end-- but overall the film achieves a great balance between the filth and the sugar, and damned if I'm not entertained every time.
*I know that Blu-Ray versions of the film come with both versions, and if you want to send me money for a PS3 I'll happily upgrade.