Surprising message in new sex comedy
The new comedy is about a mild-mannered electronics store employee’s reluctant quest to find female companionship. The star is Steve Carrell, and everyone who has seen him on the satirical news program “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” already knows him as a dorky, joyfully funny guy. Now the whole world has a chance to find out.
Carrell plays the title character, Andy Stitzer, who is the living definition of squeaky clean. His house is tidy, and his hair is as shiny as his hardwood floors. Even the meals he cooks for himself are aesthetically perfect. His hobbies include everything you’d expect: model-building, gaming, collecting mint-in-box figurines.
Then, one fateful day, Andy’s co-workers are one man short for a poker game and resort to inviting him along. A conversation about sexual exploits quickly and painfully (and uproariously) reveals Andy’s lack of experience. Predictably, his three friends make it their personal mission to get Andy laid.
Two things made “40 Year-Old Virgin” a delightful and humane comedy rather than a mean-spirited mockery of its protagonist (and, by extension, this viewer). The first is that the efforts of the friends, who each have emotional problems on par with Andy’s own, end in failure. In fact, it’s only through ignoring them that Andy finally finds the right woman.
That woman, Trish, is the second. This single mother of two who runs a store called “I Sell Your Stuff on eBay,” played by Catherine Keener, displays sympathy for Andy’s foibles but never condescension.
But it’s the film’s wonderfully relentless gags, which mix the recent string of sex comedies with a dollop of “Napoleon Dynamite,” that keep the story moving. Andy’s co-workers try to set him up at speed dates, clubs and even with a prostitute, all to no avail and many solid laughs. Andy’s initial willingness to try anything, no matter how absurd, is painfully funny.
The arc of the co-workers’ characters, whose sex lives gradually decay as they try to aid Andy, are also great fun. Jay (Romany Malco) initially plays the stud only to collapse under the pressure of his girlfriend and rely on Andy as a scapegoat and a shoulder to cry on. David (Paul Rudd) can’t give up his ex-girlfriend, blames her for his attachment, and spirals downward into giving up sex altogether, instead videotaping his buttocks. Meanwhile, Cal (Seth Rogen) just exercises all-around bad judgment.
The film is a great success in satirizing modern dating, an environment in which some people might pretend to be confident, but in fact are always at their most vulnerable. Andy’s innocent naivete, the fact that he can’t display false confidence even when he tries, makes him the most real character. And the film ultimately vindicates him. That’s the greatest part about “The 40 Year-Old Virgin.” Its message: It might not be so bad to wait after all.
The 40 Year-Old Virgin
Comedy / English
by Ben Applegate