Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005)

Director: Judd Apatow

Going into this movie, I was prepared to hate it. I had been scarred previously from modern big-budget comedies. “Wedding Crashers” left a bad taste in my mouth, “Anchorman” simply frustrated me, and “Old School” made me want to denounce the American comedy altogether. Those movies all have talented comedic actors in them, but in each case they never amounted to anything more than that – films with some funny people in them. "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" takes an idea that would have been wasted in any other hands, and nestles snugly among the likes of Monty Python and Spinal Tap. It ain't perfect, and may drag on way too long for casual observers. It also may be much too rude and crude for some, but Steve Carell and Judd Apatow (with the help of an outstanding cast) create both real characters with depth (in a comedy for once), and a story with heart; sailing effortlessly through some uncharted waters.

Andy Stitzer (played by Steve Carell) is a 40-year-old virgin. I have a feeling that the would-be similarities between Apatow’s version, and any other filmmaker’s take on it would end there. The reason it works is because Andy is more than a virgin at the age of 40. The virginity is just a symptom of Andy’s lifestyle. He’s in a rut in every way, and he’s content with that, or so he says. Once he’s outed by his coworkers, he embarks (or rather, THEY embark) on a mission to help Andy get the full experience of life; sex being at the top of the list. The film simultaneously manages to show how ridiculously sex-obsessed the secular world is, and also how Andy’s lifestyle can be destructive to his character. That’s the genius of it. It makes the point that there is no right or wrong way to live. Andy even comes to the revelation that all this time he thought something was wrong with HIM. He didn’t need to have sex to be a complete human; he just needed to lighten up a little.

Any other comedy would have glorified the people obsessed with sex, and made Andy out to just be a loser in every way. In a stand out role, Andy’s coworker Cal (played by Seth Rogen) shows how either lifestyle really, fundamentally makes to sense. Their reasons you should have sex are because you can, and because the opportunity’s there. Another of Andy’s coworkers, David (played by Paul Rudd) is having the hardest time, going through a break-up with his girlfriend. He admits to Andy that love does suck sometimes, but it’s worth it; that’s what life’s all about. The characters are real, and genuinely interact with each other, probably as a result of much improvisation within the scenes. Andy initially comes off to his coworkers as a serial killer, and Cal admits to the other guys that he likes Andy; he just doesn’t want to end up as a lampshade in his apartment. The supporting characters aren’t mean and one-dimensional, as they would be in other films. They like Andy, and want to help him. Eventually, Andy meets a woman named Trish (played by Catherine Keener) when she comes into his store. He gets her number, and after a few attempts, he makes a few dates with her. Their relationship genuinely grows throughout the film, and when they finally have a big blow-out about Andy’s reluctance towards sex and his passive attitudes, it really builds up to a scene that actors should watch to learn technique. They’re really connected, and their argument will make you unsure which side to take.

The way I talk about this movie makes it sound like a serious examination on sex in society today. Those elements are there if you want them, but it’s also just damn funny. Although what I would classify as funny, most fans may not have even noticed. Steve Carell’s reactions to being asked to play poker with the guys, or seeing a nip slip at a "date-a-palooza" are priceless. Seth Rogen’s one-liners never stop, and don’t disappoint. It gets high marks for its hilarious cast. Each person wasn’t afraid to take their character and make it more than just reading words on a page. Maybe that was because many of the words were improvised and WEREN’T on the page. At any rate, it makes it feel as though the camera just found the characters chatting somewhere, and started filming them. The conversations that studios generally refer to as non sequitur, or not integral to the plot, make the movie dense and hold up well to repeat viewing. I just watched it again recently and laughed at things I didn’t notice the first few times I saw it.

It’s easily one of my favorite comedies, and so much more than what it appears to be. It has a genuinely moral character that most religious types will never know about, since they would denounce the film without seeing it. Ironically, they judge the book by its cover. It takes just about anything you could think of involving sex, and makes a joke about it in one way or another. It's hard to come up with any missed opportunity that they didn't address. Usually they think of it before you do. I, personally, want to see films that were made by people smarter than me, so I can learn from them. And in the case of a comedy, I want to see people that really formed comedy and wit into a science all their own, and know how to do the "comedy math" as I call it, so you can see how it's done, but could never do it yourself. The whole movie is like an improv lesson that could be shown in comedy classes. Judd Apatow and crew earn my utmost respect for this hilarious feat of strength. This is the perfect example of taking an idea and brainstorming on it in order to address and create as much comedic material as humanly possible. So who would have thought that this movie would achieve what it does? Honestly, I didn’t. And I couldn’t have been happier to be proven wrong.

No comments: