For a crowd-pleasing R-rated summer comedy that doesn't treat its audience like sniveling idiots, "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" is head and shoulders above the recent grossly overpraised "Wedding Crashers
." Directed by Judd Apatow (TV's "Freaks and Geeks"), this equal parts outrageous and sweet trifle garners its fair share of laughs from expert comedic timing and by basing most of the humor in a hardened reality that doesn't seem very over-the-top at all. At nearly two hours in length, however, the film loses some of its luster by taking way too long to get to the point. A leaner, more discriminating editor could have turned a pretty good movie into a great one.
Steve Carell, until now appearing in a whole lot of supporting film roles (2004's "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy
" being, perhaps, his most prominent), is splendidly likable and down-to-earth in this, his first lead role. Carell is Andy Stitzer, the shy middle-aged character of the title who, for one reason or another, has never slept with a woman. When his buddies at the technology store he works at (Paul Rudd, Romany Malco, Seth Rogen) discover this fact, they set out to get him laid if it's the last thing they do. His potential hookups, from a drunken party girl (Leslie Mann) to a kinky bookstore employee (Elizabeth Banks), go disastrously until he meets on his own the lovely mother-of-three, grandmother-of-one Trish (Catherine Keener). Trish, who has been in her fair share of bad relationships, is instantly smitten by Andy's innocent, low-key niceness, but as their romance heats up, Andy grows increasingly fearful that she will be put off when she finds out he is still a virgin.
"The 40-Year-Old Virgin" might be about a man who, well, is 40 years old, but the picture could speak to anyone of any age in the same predicament as Andy, and make the rest of viewers reminisce about their own past frustrations in finding that one special person who means more to them than just sex. Writer-director Judd Apatow and co-writer Carell dodge lowest-common-denominator gross-out humor (as was found, for example, in the recent "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo
") as they, instead, use the valuable, uninhibited R rating in honest and natural ways, made all the more funny because of this. All men watching the film, for example, will be able to relate all too well to Andy's troubles urinating standing up with a morning boner, or talking candidly about sex with their male confidantes, and everyone who has ever gotten a wax job will undoubtedly cringe and be in hysterics at the realism of Andy's reaction to getting his hairy chest waxed for the first time.
If "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" had chosen to play out in a broader manner than it does, it would have been in danger of becoming just a one-joke throwaway. By treating the central conflict that Andy faces with seriousness, it allows the plot to hold more substance than that. Andy is not written or portrayed as a weirdo or a freak or even that big of a nerd (even though, yes, he is fanatical with his unopened toy collection and a framed poster for the band, Asia). Instead, he is merely a regular, likable guy who, as a young man, never really was able to connect with anyone of the opposite sex, and then eventually gave up somewhere along the way to his fortieth birthday. Finally front and center for the first time on the big screen, Steve Carell is a delightful comedic talent who has his everyman routine down pat. Carell never overplays the part or has to strain to be funny; he genuinely is.
The rest of the cast, too, are unusually memorable for the genre, with standout performances left and right. Paul Rudd (2003's "The Shape of Things
"), Romany Malco (2002's "The Tuxedo
") and Seth Rogen (2001's "Donnie Darko
") briskly inject just enough individual character details to lift their roles as Andy's co-workers and friends above being run-of-the-mill. Stealing scenes in small roles, Leslie Mann (2002's "Orange County
") is hilarious as Nicky, a horny drunk driver, in one of the movie's best scenes; Elizabeth Banks (2003's "Seabiscuit
") is charismatic and winning as a sexually adventurous book store worker; Jane Lynch (2004's "Sleepover
") exhibits great comic timing as Andy's inappropriately suggestive boss; and Kat Dennings (2004's "Raise Your Voice
"), as Trish's semi-rebellious daughter, ably comes off as a sympathetic teenager with more than one dimension.
Finally, the invaluable Catherine Keener (2005's "The Interpreter
"), too often underused in studio pictures, makes for a sunny, complicated, endearing love interest for Andy. Trish is so much more than just "the girl," and Keener's portrayal of this woman, giving her shades and layers and a kooky intelligence, is simply delightful. How nice, also, to have a movie romance (and in a commercial comedy, no less) between two people in their forties. Their natural life experience brings a gravitas to the romance that couldn't have possibly been there if the actors were twentysomethings. When she finally learns Andy's secret, Trish's (and Keener's) reaction is unexpected and rather incendiary.
The very title, "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" lends itself a certain predictability; it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that by the end, Andy will no longer be one. Furthermore, while director Judd Apatow doesn't fall into the usual trap of the idiot plot syndrome, its trajectory isn't much different from any number of like-minded screen romances. This slightly negative observation wouldn't hold so much weight if the film wasn't so long. The first half features so many extraneous sequences with the same basic goal in mind that they could have been cut out completely without losing a bit of depth. If anything, cutting things down to a more manageable 90 minutes would have quickened the pace and showcased its strong points in an exuberantly breezy way. As is, there's too much fat around the edges.
These debits aside, "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" (early comparisons to "American Pie
," but with adults, is not unfounded) mixes raunch with charm in just the right way, both characteristics complimenting each other without ever getting too slapsticky or too sentimental. It's a good-hearted entertainment with real crossover appeal, and if not a nonstop laugh riot, its comedy comes consistently and is successful enough to leave viewers with a warm feeling inside and a smile on their face.