Big Laughs, Little Depth
|Starring:||Steve Carell, Catherine Keener, Paul Rudd, Romany Malco, Seth Rogen, and Elizabeth Banks|
There are 40 year old virgins in America. This is no joke. Initially, the premise of “The 40 Year-Old Virgin” might seem ridiculous, but when you look underneath the vulgar veneer, you see the interesting truth underneath. And it is completely summed up in actor Steve Carell’s innocent gaze.
“The 40 Year-Old Virgin” is a funny film. Like this summer’s hit “Wedding Crashers,” it is crude in a very real, if sometimes exaggerated way. Many characters are indeed caricatures but given the intended direction the material takes, these odd embellished versions of people we know are excusable. And then there is a scene involving the painful removal of the star’s chest hair that is so unbelievable that you just have to believe it. And you laugh while squirming in your seat.
Andy Stitzer (Carell) lives a well ordered life. He keeps to himself and maintains a steady routine that mainly includes work. His work is bland; he is a stock clerk at an electronics store. How this job affords him any creature comforts on his own is a question, but he does not own a car and lives in a clean but modest apartment. And, oh, yeah, he’s a virgin at age 40.
One day, the guys working at the electronics store reluctantly ask Andy to join them for a poker game. After Andy takes all their money (claiming to have learned the game on-line), the talk turns to sex (also something Andy could have learned about on-line). When Andy demonstrates his complete ignorance of sex, the guys draw out his secret: he’s never had it. From that point forward, Andy’s fellow workers decide to get him some action setting off a series of often very funny skits that come together well culminating in the moment of truth.
Steve Carell is a talent. He was the funniest thing about the uneven “Anchorman,” and his television show “The Office,” while very dry, is smart and witty. In “Virgin,” he finds a role that perfectly suits his sweet side and this is demonstrated in the way he walks and reacts. His expressions are measured to achieve the exact amount of emotion for the character. At times, I was impressed by how well it seemed Carell understood what it might be like to be 40 and to have never had sex (I assume that Carell, the actor, has had sex). Carell’s performance vaguely reminded me of Paul Giamatti’s grumpy turn as Harvey Pekar in the perfect “American Splendor.” As Andy, Carell tells us everything with his eyes and his mouth without words.
“The 40 Year-Old Virgin” benefits greatly from a supporting cast that hams it up good. The ubiquitous Paul Rudd (he’s also in the very sweet “The Baxter” opening in September) plays an electronics salesman whose heart was broken by a girl leaving him shamelessly damaged. Romany Malco plays another salesman named Jay who has a steady girlfriend but can’t give up strange women on the side. And Seth Rogen is Andy’s immediate co-worker who equates women to growing pot (“wait till it grows into a plant, then you f— the plant”).
The always wonderful Catherine Keener appears as Trish, Andy’s perfect woman whose business sells your stuff on ebay for you. And in another unrecognizable role Elizabeth Banks steams up things as a nymphomaniac out to land Andy. Banks has a scene stealer in a bathtub pleasuring herself sufficiently titillating the audience.
“The 40 Year-Old Virgin” does suffer from the same problem experienced by “Wedding Crashers:” it’s just a little too long. But unlike “Wedding Crashers” “Virgin” smartly sustains its central joke for almost the entire film. The sentiment is a little stronger than “Crashers” in that Carell manages to make you care for the guy, but the real joy of “Virgin” is that it is often a raunchy good time. And it is a sign of the times that most comedies these days go beyond the pale gloriously reveling in crude low humor. But I take issue with critics who call this trend distasteful. Fact is that many of the lewd jokes in “Virgin” are not even exaggerations at all, rather, based on things that really happen. And it is a testament to the effectiveness of this film that audiences identify with this crudeness while at the same time relating to Andy’s innocence.
But there was a missed opportunity not taken in “The 40 Year-Old Virgin.” That opportunity is the exploration of both the origin and the life of a man who reaches the age of 40 having never had sex. While I think Carell nails the look of the character, this film fails to provide him with substance beyond the prurient. And it is a cop-out to say that a raunchy comedy is not the right vehicle for the job. As funny as “Virgin” is, it could have had more depth and meaning. Comedy can do that, and when it does, something special is achieved.