‘The 40-Year-Old Virgin’ is better than you’d expect
August 17, 2005
There’s a point midway through “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” where Steve Carell’s character, Andy Stitzer, decides that his chest hair needs to be removed. Rather than go for the Velcro sound effect associated with removing the hair in a fake manner, Carell insisted that his real hair be torn off via the wax job method! Director Judd Apatow wasn’t keen at first but Carell pressed him, saying, “It has to be real. It won’t be as funny if it’s mocked up or if it’s a special effect. You have to see that this is really happening.” Carell got his wish, and when you take a look on screen, that isn’t fake blood you see before you. Wow. If that isn’t dedication to a role, I don’t know what is. How do you ladies out there put up with such pain?
Judd Apatow has a history of directing television shows with a unique twist to them. Two of my all-time faves include “Freaks and Geeks” and “The Larry Sanders Show.” Not a bad résumé. His producing credits include “Anchorman,” “Kicking & Screaming” and “The Cable Guy.” This being his first feature flick as a director, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but have you ever gone to a movie expecting one thing and then it turns out to be another? Such is the case with “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” I guess after seeing so many so-so comedies, I was expecting (and wrongfully so) to see yet another turkey.
I was pleasantly surprised. There’s just something about Steve Carell’s fish-out-of-water character – a hapless man too painfully shy to start something with the fairer sex – that seemed appealing. This being Carell’s first motion picture in which he has top billing, I’m sure he, too, was somewhat apprehensive about his own personal performance. I’m referring to his acting, of course.
After a four-year stint on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” Carell made a go of it in movies, stealing scenes away from Jim Carrey in “Bruce Almighty” and Will Ferrell in “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.” He’s a regular now on NBC’s “The Office,” playing the role made famous by Ricky Gervais (the creator, director, writer and star) of the original BBC version. (That version is better than Carell’s take on it.)
Carell co-wrote the script (along with Apatow), so he has the comedic scenes tailored not just for his character, but also those of his co-stars, many of whom are real-life pals in the showbiz world. Paul Rudd, who co-starred with him in “Anchorman,” shows up in “Virgin” as his co-worker at the electronics store. Even David Koechner, who played that annoying sportscaster in “Anchorman,” has a brief cameo here as well.
As mentioned earlier, Carell’s character, Andy, is a 40-year-old man with not much going on in his life that isn’t predictable. He is a perfectionist, and is very, very routine in his daily life. He works in an electronics superstore, collects comic books and action figure dolls (can we call them dolls if a man collects them?), has a nice apartment, good friends and, well, everything but the obvious: a special somebody that can break his 40-year curse of being celibate.
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And who assists him in finding a cure for no nookie? That’s right. His good buddies. Let’s just say that since they’ve had theirs, they see it as their mission to see that Andy gets his. Unfortunately, they can’t seem to find the right prospect for Andy. Of particular note are Beth (Elizabeth Banks) and a woman of too much substance named Nicky (Leslie Mann). It must have been fun to direct her, since she is also the director’s real-life wife.
Then Andy meets Trish (Catherine Keener), another 40-year-old – but since she is a divorced mother of three … well, the virgin title obviously doesn’t apply to her. There is chemistry, and what follows is when the fun part starts – ironic is more like it, actually.
As with a movie of this genre, there are those who might easily be offended, and I’m not even hinting at the virginity references. Comedy is so different depending on one’s individual tastes. Some classified as politically correct might want to avoid this flick altogether and watch reruns instead of “Gomer Pyle, USMC.” All in all, though, not a bad first effort for both director and star. I laughed throughout, and believe it or not, the movie had heart to it.
– Howie Nave is host/manager of The Improv Comedy Club inside Harveys and reviews films for seven radio stations throughout northern California and Nevada. He co-hosts the morning show on Tahoe’s KRLT radio and you can see his film reviews every Friday morning on KOLO ABC TV channel 8 and weekends on KMTN television here in South Lake Tahoe.