Special Review: “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” — A Surprising Lack of Inexperience
Produced by: Judd Apatow, Clayton Townsend, Shauna Robertson
Written by: Judd Apatow, Steve Carell
Edited by: Brent White
Cinematography by: Jack Green
Music by: Lyle Workman
Starring: Steve Carell, Catherine Keener, Paul Rudd, Romany Malco, Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Leslie Mann, Kat Dennings, Jane Lynch
If you’re among my friends, you probably know the story about how I saw this movie soon after it came out on DVD during my first year of college. It wasn’t the sort of movie that I would have sought out myself at the time, but my best friend’s roommate put it on one night while I was hanging out at their dorm, as I was wont to do in those days, and, yeah, I watched it. It was pretty much the first hard R-rated comedy film I had ever sat down and watched at the time on my own. Being 19, living relatively on my own, I felt pretty grown up about the whole situation. And, you know what? I actually quite liked it. (Spoiler alert if you’re worried about those kinds of things with a review.)
Going back home during the summer, however, was another deal entirely. I went with my mom to the local Blockbuster and, when she pointed out the movie as being filthy, but having not watched it herself, I felt emboldened in my newfound adulthood, having also taken an introduction to film class and a history of film class within the same year, and stood up for what I felt was an unjust position. “It’s actually not that bad,” I told her. The sharp pain on my shoulder soon after was the aftermath of my mom’s smacking me in disappointment before telling me, “I’m not talking to you,” and moving on down the aisle. She wasn’t kidding either. The irony of the situation was that, years later, after I graduated from college and was really actually in adulthood, I learned that she had actually gone and seen Knocked Up on her own and actually enjoyed that. Needless to say, I found this pretty amusing and accused her of being a hypocrite (it was a lighthearted conversation, honest), but when I considered the fact that, while Knocked Up came a little later, my mom was already a fan of such films as Animal House and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, so, you know, I kinda already knew that. (We’re all of us hypocrites. I still love you, mom!)
I know where the stigma came from, too. R-rated movie. It’s called The 40-Year-Old Virgin. It’s a comedy. It’s going to all be about sex and making fun of this guy, isn’t it? Having a Christian belief system can bring much conflict into situations like this. What do you do with a movie that pokes fun at your beliefs and values? Do you ignore it and pretend it’s not there? Do you protest it? Do you poke it with a stick? Burn it? In my case, I watched it. And while I can say that this kind of felt like the rebel thing to do at the time, it’s actually one of those moments that kind of formed my ideas about watching movies like this, despite any beliefs that I may have on my own. That is, watching the movie and then forming a decision based upon actual firsthand knowledge is usually the best course of action if you’re able and mature enough to watch such a thing in the right context. (Honestly, you think anyone who is against actual pornography hasn’t actually seen pornography? Not likely…)
The surprising thing about The 40-Year-Old Virgin is that, despite the “strong language,” “suggestive material,” or whatever other vague descriptor the MPAA has tacked on to their arbitrary reasoning behind their R-rating (or, if you’re feeling especially bold, whatever uncut material makes the film “Unrated”), it couldn’t be any closer to having a Christian message than if you had cleaned up the language, cast Kirk Cameron, and made it produced by some church group – and even then I’d be more likely to question the morality of that film.
Steve Carell plays Andy Stitzer, a man on the brink of being middle aged who still works at an electronics store and who is widely recognized as kind of a weird loner among his colleagues. One night, however, they invite him over to their poker game, being short one man, and share the usual guy subjects – sexual escapades, primarily. Andy, desperate to fit in, plays along until it becomes obvious – he’s never had sex in his life. His three friends, David, Cal, and Jay, are determined to “correct” this, of course, and set about teaching him in the ways of seduction, which pretty much involves hooking up with random women in bars and making sure he’s properly, well… groomed… for such an encounter.
*SPOILER ALERT IN THE NAME OF MAKING A POINT*
Andy initially plays along, hoping that he will have a breakthrough and finally no longer be considered a freak, but it soon becomes apparent that random hookups aren’t his style. He’s more attracted to the store clerk across the street, Trish, who has the novel idea of selling all products in her store exclusively through eBay. Andy promptly goes about what can best be described as courting Trish, but due to her kids, she feels that it would be best to take their relationship slower than she usually does and not have sex so soon. Andy agrees, still terrified of how he would perform, but also worried that the first person he does it with will dump him as soon as he’s not adequate enough.
And that’s the funny thing about The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Beneath the filthy language and subject matter lies a film that’s actually quite sensitive to the subject of abstinence, even at an advanced age. Andy was never married previously and even struggles to watch the porn that David brings him one night, knowing that this isn’t what he’s looking for. Despite the pressure from his new friends and the temptation to give in, Andy stays true to his feelings and eventually reveals to Trish the reasons why he’s so nervous around her. And you know what? She’s totally cool with it. In the end, perhaps inevitably, Andy does lose his virginity (leading to one of the goofiest credits sequences ever), but not until marrying Trish. And, in the end, he finds that waiting for not just the right moment, but the right person, was absolutely the way to go about it. And the movie actually celebrates him for it! Tell me that’s not a Hollywood miracle!
*END SPOILER ALERT*
Judd Apatow, as a result, has gained a bit of a reputation for being a bit of a moralizing figure in Hollywood. Some see Knocked Up even as a parable about a couple who choose life over abortion (though they’re clearly deluding themselves in seeing it as a purely anti-abortion parable more so than with this film’s abstinence message). But the movie, being a comedy, would be nothing if not for some solid comedic performances on the part of the cast and some good writing on the part of Apatow and his star, Steve Carell.
Naturally, Carell, who stole our hearts with characters like Brick in Anchorman and Michael Scott on The Office, is genuinely sweet and awkward in the role of Andy, and you absolutely buy into why Trish would be attracted to this goofy man with action figures on every shelf in his apartment. Carell plays the role with sensitivity and, as usual, is perfect with the sort of squirmy comedy that comes with the character. He commits to the role, going as far as to do the whole waxing scene in real life, without special effects. As his friends, Paul Rudd, Seth Rogen, and Romany Malco play varying degrees of supportive in Andy’s journey, with Rudd’s tortured romantic, David, being a standout in terms of humorous moments. Catherine Keener plays Trish with the appropriate amount of kindness, sexiness, and frustration, a woman who has been far more experienced in life than Andy and is understandably attracted to this baggage-free man who entertains her kids with corny magic tricks. Supporting appearances from Jane Lynch as the aggressive store manager, Elizabeth Banks as the bookstore clerk who turns out to be a bit of a freak, and Apatow’s wife, Leslie Mann, as one of Andy’s would-be conquests all round out a great cast of very funny actors.
And, yeah, just for the record, the movie’s pretty dirty. Don’t think for a moment that just because I’ve justified the film’s nessage and existence means that its R-rating (or whatever) is going to go away any time soon. But with a subject like this, and with a film that’s bold enough to go against the grain and actually celebrate abstinence until marriage, the raunchy nature of the film kind of works in favor of those who want to see it as a triumph of not giving in to peer pressure. Plus, grow up. Sometimes mature subject matter is funny, too. Yeah, it’s totally not appropriate for kids. That shouldn’t stop an adult from seeing it — and maybe even watching it with their kids (whom I’m certain would be quite mortified to watch it with their parents.) It doesn’t make the movie “bad.”
In fact, I think it actually makes the film quite … good.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 3.5 / 5