The 40-Year-Old Virgin

40-year-old-virginSex has become such an idol in modern times, and especially in Hollywood, it’s difficult to understand how a middle-aged man could have spent his life avoiding it. In one of his funniest movies to date, Judd Apatow, creator of such off-beat gems as Anchorman, Knocked Up and Pineapple Express, presents us with just such a creature.

Meet Andy Stitzer (Steve Carrell, who also co-wrote), the titular ante-hero who has spent years of bachelordom collecting action hero figurines and making egg mayonnaise sandwiches. Working in the stockroom of an electronics store by day and watching Survivor with his elderly neighbours by night (“I’ll bring the soda!”), Andy seems unlikely to ever woo a woman to bed – until three of his fellow workers stumble upon his secret.

One night, while attempting to share a tale of sexual prowess, he compares a woman’s breast to a “bag of sand.” Quickly grasping the truth behind his gaffe the three resolve to end his 40-year drought. But his new-found friends are hapless when it comes to women. David (Paul Rudd) is forever pining after a girl who moved on long ago; Jay (Romany Malco) is a compulsive cheat; and Cal (Seth Rogan) is the source such maxims as “date drunks” and “never actually say anything to a woman; just ask questions”. When Andy, following his colleagues’ advice, hits on a drunk woman in a club she insists on driving him home, crashes the car and vomits all over him; they send him to get this chest waxed but Andy leaves half-way through because he can’t stand the pain (Steve Carrell actually had his chest hair removed during the scene). Another scene shows Andy arriving at a “party” arranged by his colleagues, to be greeted by a transvestite prostitute. Fed up at his friends’ shoddy efforts to get him laid, he decides to take matters into his own hands.

A wise decision as it turns out, because the very next day he lands a date with Trish, an attractive and gregarious mother of three who runs the store opposite his workplace. They get on like a house on fire, but the night ends rather abruptly when, left alone, Andy tries to put on a condom and can’t. After several attempts, Trish’s teenage daughter Marla barges in, sees the pile of discarded condoms and assumes they’ve been at it like rabbits. When Trish suggests postponing sex till their twentieth date, Andy heartily agrees. In the meantime, Andy gets a promotion and eventually sets up his own store, selling his models to raise the required cash. But when the dreaded date comes, a series of misunderstandings threaten to shatter Andy’s dream of a happy relationship.

This light-hearted but touching comedy from Judd Apatow showcases a whole range of relationships from the platonic to the purely sexual. But while Apatow celebrates the diverse sexual and emotional experiences of his cast, he is a traditionalist at heart, and gives a thumbs-up to stable, if unconventional relationships based on self-sacrifice and mutual trust, while alternatives appear to fail. Whilst Andy struggles to make eye contact with a woman, his friends are juggling too many of them. David, for example, has a healthy sexual appetite but keeps stalking his ex; Jay, a self-styled Casanova, is left (temporarily) heartbroken when his girlfriend dumps him after she discovers his cheating ways.

For all his shyness around women, only Andy seems capable of building a lasting relationship because he respects women, and understands that relationships that work are built on friendship and mutual respect as well as, or even instead of a good sex life. Andy is attracted to Trish’s quirkiness and entrepreneurship; Trish is relieved to have found a “nice” man after a string of failures. When David donates a box of porn to Andy to “loosen him up” sexually, it’s no surprise that Andy fast forwards through most of it – he sees sex as part of a meaningful relationship rather than an end in itself. Andy’s friends act as a catalyst, putting him on the market, so to speak, and tackling superficial obstacles such as his wardrobe and obsession with action figures, but ultimately it’s his innate charm and consideration that win the day. True love supersedes trivialities.

On the surface The 40-Year-Old Virgin is a collection of types – the loner, the stoner, the stalker – but though the film has fun with them, it treats them with tenderness rather than exploiting them for cheap laughs. The incidental comedy is razor sharp, as Carrell and Apatow caricature the familiarity of the tech store, which could be located anywhere in Europe or North America, and the pettiness of office politics. Jane Lynch’s Paula is a real gem – a puffed up middle-manager who uses her standing in the company to try and entice Andy to sex. “I’m discreet. I’ll haunt your dreams” she promises him. Meanwhile junior members of staff barely disguise their contempt for their seniors and their jobs, arguing with customers on the shop floor, displaying their backsides on the store’s huge television screens, or sneaking into the shop at night to watch porn.

Supported by an astute and sympathetic cast, Steve Carrell’s congenial manner and understated performance style suit well Apatow’s relaxed direction. Keener is wonderfully sympathetic as Trish, and demonstrates a rare understanding of her character. Her task is to take Andy’s virginity, but more than this she likes and accepts Andy for who he is – action figures and all – and creates a relationship that we want to see blossom.

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