Judd Apatow’s The 40-Year-Old Virgin is, above all else, a cute, clean-cut, cheerfully vulgar crowd-pleaser. That, and it singlehandedly launched the career of The Office‘s Steve Carrell, raked in $177 million against a $26 million budget, and ushered in a whole new generation of mainstream R-rated comedies with this astounding commercial success—all only five years into the new millennium.
Popular impact aside, however, The 40-Year Old Virgin only really needed to be consistently clever (or, for that matter, even consistently entertaining) to hold up in its own right, especially with theaters settling into a new Apatow-type comedy every year. Ultimately, perhaps that just comes down to how funny you find Apatow’s movies, particularly the specific type this one becomes (more on that in a bit), but as breezy and upbeat as everything feels, it fell just short of that for me. Yet as the film started, it was actually hard to believe I’d feel that way.
Removed just enough from his Michael Scott persona to avoid looking like a one-trick pony (speaking of which, keep an eye out for fellow Office stars Mindy Kaling and David Koechner, who respectively played Kelly Kapoor and Todd Packer on the show, each cameoing in their own scenes), yet still recognizably possessing that same comic energy, Carell proves he can really be naturally funny in anything, just so long as he’s given enough to do.
As he’d later expand on for more dramatic roles (namely, the more seriously-toned comedy-drama Little Miss Sunshine, which came out the very next year), Carrell is a perfect fit for the nerdy, schleppy loser his character, the lonely stock supervisor Andy Stitzer, fully embodies. Whenever giving him the spotlight, or simply letting him and his friends play off each other, The 40-Year-Old Virgin manages to keep itself afloat… at least, for a little while. We’ll get to that.
Andy doesn’t drive (if it wasn’t for his trusty bike, he’d never even make it to work in the morning), sleeps with only the company of his countless action figures, and genuinely looks as though he’s never showered a day in his life. All this may or may not have to do with one little secret he’s held his whole life, up until his friends suddenly realize the truth. Yeah, you already know what the secret is.
When The 40-Year Old-Virgin is merely taking Andy on various misadventures to, as his friends insist, finally earn his manhood good and proper, it’s fairly enjoyable. Even if his repeated failed hookups grow rather repetitive, the film’s first half has a strong-enough energy to make up for that, or even how shallow the story’s overall message might be. Then the other shoe drops.
Right as soon as Catherine Keener’s character, the harried single mom Trish Piedmont, turns up to be Stitzer’s one true, perfect love, despite circumstances constantly forcing them apart, The 40-Year Old Virgin shifts from an agreeable male-friendships farce to virtually every other generic, painfully formulaic rom-com from the same era. That’s not so much the fault of Keener herself, who isn’t terribly cast here at all, as how disappointingly flat this whole arc feels.
It’s one thing for a comedy’s narrative to be rather safe and predictable, just so long as the comedy itself is still genuinely funny. Sweet as it is to watch Stitzer finally find the right girl to, perhaps, share his life with, it’s quite another for this comedic writing to just grow stale, and the film to outright lose much of its own personality as it goes on.
Without any exaggeration, the entire second half of The 40-Year-Old Virgin almost feels like watching a different movie altogether, and not really in a good way. It doesn’t exactly help that this paper-thin story is stretched out to a full 2 hours, which constraining to 90 minutes or so might’ve improved the film’s pacing a good bit. Some may not share that same sentiment, and that honestly makes me happy, but in my view, it becomes rather tiring by the end.
Again, it’s easy to imagine most enjoying The 40-Year-Old Virgin for what it is, so if it’s to your taste, perhaps my own issues should be taken with a hefty bowl of salt. Unlike the same year’s Wedding Crashers, which all but entirely could’ve passed with a PG-13 (no matter it clearly being targeted to the same adult audiences), it does appropriately—and amusingly—commit to exactly the kind of R-rated raunchiness you’d expect, but not to the point of possibly turning off the “cozy date-night” crowd.
Really, compared to many movies clearly made to appeal to that particular crowd, The 40-Year-Old Virgin is certainly far from the worst. Even if Apatow simply isn’t my cup of tea (in terms of modern comedy, heavily sarcastic, offbeat shows like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia more closely fit my own sense of humor), I wouldn’t exactly discourage anyone from seeing this, if only to catch Carrell’s true breakout performance. As for me, I’ll just hope for the best from Superbad.
One thought on “Movie Review: “The 40-Year-Old Virgin””
I learn so much from your reviews. They are so chuck full of good details and flow quickly. Nice work.
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