Buoyed by good reviews, I attended a sold out Friday night performance of "The 40 Year Old Virgin", Steve Carrell's (perhaps the best thing about "Bruce Almighty", NBC's Americanized "The Office") first starring role. It was, simply put, extremely funny.
Andy (Carrell), the receiving manager at an electronics chain store (think "The Good Guys") in the Valley, lives a happy life. He wakes up every morning, makes a nice breakfast, rides his bike to work, returns home to watch "Survivor" with the elderly neighbors upstairs, plays some video games and then goes to bed. Andy is the type guy who lines his walls with action figures still sealed in their original boxes. He accepts an invitation to play poker with some of his co-workers and the conversation turns to women; David (Paul Rudd) is still trying to get over his breakup two years ago, Jay (Romany Malco) is in a relationship but also likes to play around and insists that this makes his relationship stronger and Cal (Seth Rogen), Andy's co-worker in receiving, is a tall guy who is into some kinky stuff. After the guys relate outlandish stories about sex, its Andy's turn and he gamely tries to convince them that he has had sex. They quickly pick up on the fact that he is a 40 year old virgin and insist on helping him overcome this obstacle, making it a quest. Each provides him with their own ideas on how to have sex and/ or find a girl to date. Then Andy meets Trish (Catherine Keener) the owner of an "I Will Sell It On EBay For You" store across the street.
"The 40 Year Old Virgin", written by Carrell and Apatow, who also directed, is a very funny, refreshingly sweet and vulgar comedy about a man trying to navigate the murky waters of dating and relationships for the first time in his life. Notice how I said the film was sweet and vulgar? Those aren't words you would often use together to describe a comedy, but they are perfectly fitting here. The film blends a lot of references to sex, sexual acts and lewd behavior with a story that is surprisingly sweet and refreshing.
The key to the success of "Virgin" lies in Steve Carrell. His performance is similar to Will Ferrell's in "Elf". These performances made the films. If a more famous, perhaps better known comedian had taken on this project, I don't think Andy would have been portrayed with a sweet innocence underlined with a mild desperation, as Carrell. Carrell manages to portray his desperation while maintaining his desire to be a decent person. Throughout the film, he gets into a series of situations, most with hugely funny payoffs which rob the character of his dignity. But because Carrell plays the character so earnestly, this only serves to make the situations that much more funny. This is a star making turn; much like "Elf" was for Ferrell. Hopefully, Carrell will be able to avoid the tiresome projects Ferrell has been participating in lately. Films like "Bewitched" and "Kicking and Screaming". What is he thinking? Actually, Ferrell must be letting the $20 million paychecks he gets for each of the films cloud his judgement.
If "Virgin" only had the one character, it would probably be a pretty good film, but the film is filled with interesting, funny performances complimenting Andy beautifully. Catherine Keener's Trish is a refreshing addition to the film. From her first appearance, she manages to convey so much about her life. She is unsure of what kind of a VCR to buy when she comes into the shop. Andy ends up helping her and Trish is a little unsure of what to say, not very knowledgeable about electronics, and maybe a little embarrassed about her store, where she sells things for other people on eBay. As we get to know Trish, she seems to be the perfect fit for Andy. The performance is really amazingly multifaceted and has many different little quirks and levels which I can't reveal here.
Each of Andy's co-workers is also interesting and fresh, representing a different heightened aspect of the male personality. They urge him to do different things, like look for the most drunk woman in a group, participate in a speed dating hour, hit on a woman who works in a local bookstore by only asking her questions and acting like a bit of a jerk, and more. David is perhaps the most centered, but even he has been pining two years for an ended relationship that lasted four months. Rudd is very funny as he tries to maintain a balance of acting normal while surrounded by his loony friends. Jay is perhaps the most vulgar of the group, a real horn dog; he doesn't seem to have an ounce of respect in his body for his girlfriend. Romany Malco does a great job with this performance, embracing it fully, not worrying whether people are offended by what he is saying. Cal, played by Seth Rogen, is perhaps the most interesting, simply because he seems to be the most normal, until he starts speaking. He is clearly a little bit of a deviant, especially after he relates the story of a recent trip. These characters help to make the film funny and human, because each of them has a moment when their belief systems are shot down.
The minor characters are also very funny. Paula, the store manager, played by Jane Lynch, has a memorable scene with Andy. Two employees, Mooj and Haziz, are also very funny and memorable. And Andy goes out with some truly strange women; perhaps the most memorable is Nicky, played by Leslie Mann, a raging alcoholic who decides to give Andy a try, with very humorous and gross results.
My only complaint, and in the case of "Virgin", its a small one, is the film is too long. At almost 2 hours, the film would have been a lot stronger if say 10 or 15 minutes had been shaved from some of the `wacky' dates Andy goes on. But that is a small complaint.
As the film progresses, you realize that the R rating is well-earned. Much like the recent "Wedding Crashers" and "Four Brothers', it is refreshing to watch R-rated films. The subject matter is not altered or destroyed by a studio's lame attempts to earn a PG or PG-13 and more widespread acceptance. Because these filmmakers are able to tell the story in an appropriate tone, I have no doubt that "Virgin" will join "Wedding Crashers" as two of the most successful films of the year.