The most surprising thing about The 40-Year-Old Virgin is that it’s not a mean-spirited film. It easily could have been, given that its protagonist is a virgin who is 40 years of age, but it decides to take a more gentle, smarter approach to the subject. “Sure, we could make fun of him for 90 minutes,” it says, “but it would make for a better experience for both us and the audience if we instead made a movie about all sorts of relationships and treated the subject with respect, not disdain.” And so that’s what happened.
Andy (Steve Carell, who co-wrote the film with director Judd Apatow) is our virgin. He tried to lose his V-card when he was younger, but after a few years of trying he gave up. Now, he works at an electronics store, rides his bike to work, and watches television with his older neighbors. He has an action figure collection valued at tens of thousands of dollars, and he seemingly has little interest in doing anything even remotely sexual. He’s a caricature through which the film can make its points, but I’m sure there are actually people like him in the real world.
One night, his work colleagues invite him for a game of poker. Eventually, he slips and lets on to the fact that he’s a virgin. The three men taunt a little bit but then decide that they’re going to help him get laid. They all have different strategies for meeting women, they each have their own relationship problems, and this is part of the reason the film works. The focus isn’t solely on Andy’s specific virgin problem; it pays attention to these other characters, too.
From here, The 40-Year-Old Virgin plays out as an R-rated romantic comedy that actually provides some decent insight into relationships. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it something you could use as a relationship guidebook, but it’s smarter and truer than most films of its ilk. Yes, its primary situation is a tad absurd, but the discussions that occur because of it aren’t. And the more grounded supporting cast keeps the film from becoming too silly for its own good.
The central romance becomes Andy and a woman named Trish (Catherine Keener), who comes to the electronics store to by a VCR player and leaves having given Andy her phone number. She’s unconditionally in love with him from day one, it seems, although apart from “love at first sight” and the fact that Andy is an undeniably good person, it’s hard to tell exactly why. She claims she finally wants to settle down with a nice guy, while he doesn’t even know where to begin when it comes to interacting with females.
The 40-Year-Old Virgin is a comedy, and I didn’t find myself laughing a whole lot during it. There were a few good jokes, one-liners and situations, but for the most part, I wasn’t laughing all that much, and especially not enough to justify a rather lengthy running time. With that said, we don’t live in a vacuum and I know a lot of other people found it hysterical, so take my lack of laughing with a grain of salt. Maybe you’ll find it the funniest thing ever.
I appreciated it more for other reasons, like the surprising amount of insight and thought it had when it came to relationships. The story is crafted in a good way, the secondary characters help keep it aloft when it starts to sink, and it all works out in a logical way. It’s smarter than you’d think it is, and its raunchy sense of humor doesn’t cut into its smarts. Most movies think it has to be one way or the other; The 40-Year-Old Virgin has it both ways. I mean, it might not have made me laugh that much, but I can’t deny its style of humor and dialogue, which is R-rated and frank.
I wish the film was shorter. That way, its laughs-per-minute ratio would have been higher, and we wouldn’t have to cut through bushes of filler to find the good stuff. It’s not that there’s about 30 minutes of film that’s “bad,” but it is unnecessary and some of the jokes go on for far too long. One such point involves Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen ad-libbing at one another reasons why the other is gay. That’s supposed to be funny. It wasn’t.
The cast is filled with actors who are either better than the material or work hard to try to make it work. Steve Carell’s awkward, slightly odd man is effective, and you can believe he’s a virgin at 40. Catherine Keener is too smart and classy an actor to participate in much of the raunchy humor, and her love-interest of a character stands out — in a good way, I think — as a result. A supporting cast consisting of Paul Rudd, Romany Malco, Seth Rogen, Jane Lynch, Kat Dennings, Elizabeth Banks, and Leslie Mann all get a few good moments.
The 40-Year-Old Virgin is a success not because of its comedy — I didn’t find it particularly funny, but you might — but because of its smarts and insights into relationships. It might be titled after its lead character, a 40-year-old virgin, but it has near-universal appeal and covers far more areas than its narrowly focused title would make you assume. Trim a half hour off the running time and you have an even better movie. The 40-Year-Old Virgin is sweet and smarter than it needed to be, and I can’t not recommend it.