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The 40-Year-Old Virgin   B+

Universal Pictures

Year Released: 2005
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Judd Apatow
Writer: Judd Apatow, Steve Carell
Cast: Steve Carell, Catherine Keener, Paul Rudd, Romany Malco, Seth Rogen, Elizabeth Banks, Leslie Mann.

Review by Rob Vaux

The 40-Year-Old Virgin is, first and foremost, a coming out party for Steve Carell. The one-time Daily Show correspondent has made a name for himself by stealing the show in such movies as Bruce Almighty and Anchorman. It was only a matter of time before he was asked to carry one on his own, and The 40-Year-Old Virgin proves he has the chops to pull it off. With the yeoman aid of director Judd Apatow, he develops his faux-newsman routine into a much different comic persona that may launch him into the big leagues.

Andy Stitzer, his awkward title character, is the sort of figure that most have more in common with than they'd care to admit. He rides his bike to work at an electronics store, where his co-workers ignore him or speculate that he might be a serial killer. He goes home to an apartment full of collectible action figures and lives an aimless -- though not entirely unhappy -- life without the affections of a woman. Any woman. At all. When his colleagues invite him to an all-night poker game, the truth of his sexual status inadvertently comes out, and they resolve to help him get over the hump (so to speak). The humor derives mainly from the fact that 1) Andy's new friends aren't quite the experts they think they are and 2) he's made his peace with his virginity and really doesn't want them tearing open old wounds.

Under Apatow's direction, the scenario quickly blossoms into a seemingly endless series of smart, raunchy, and extremely funny gags. The centerpiece is men -- their foibles, their flaws, their often-imbecilic self-delusion -- and while Andy takes the majority of the ribbing, none of the male characters are spared. Yet as foolish as they often appear, The 40-Year-Old Virgin still empathizes with them, and therein lies its primary strength. The laughs are grown-up to be sure, but spring from real humanity rather than just cheap gross-out tactics. They let us mock the characters, but we never hate them or wish them ill. Indeed, it's because we identify so deeply with them that their plight becomes all the more hysterical. As Andy is led through a series of encounters with the wrong, wrong, WRONG women, his frustration -- and our sympathies -- become all but palpable. Then possible redemption arrives in the form of Trish (Catherine Keener), a single mom whose world-weariness makes a perfect tonic for Andy's na·ïve·té. Keener brings three-dimensional plausibility to the role, selling us both on her character and on the wounds and injuries hidden beneath her quirky surface. Coupled with Carell's subtle vulnerabilities, she transforms The 40-Year-Old Virgin ever so quietly into a sweet romantic comedy.

Even if she hadn't, however -- even if the film had remained solely concerned with basic laughs -- then it would still be a rousing success. For while The 40-Year-Old Virgin is not quite the funniest film of the year (that honor belongs to The Aristocrats), it's close enough as to make no difference. As a star vehicle for Carell, as a raucous R-rated gigglefest, even as a sentimental date movie, it hits every target at which it aims. August is usually the time for Dog Day films with no ambitions beyond two hours of distracting noise. The 40-Year-Old Virgin refuses to settle for that... and summer is a little bit brighter because of it.

Review published 08.18.2005.

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