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The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005)

by on 2010/03/02

I find it difficult to mentally disentangle Steve Carell from his role as Michael Scott on the American version of The Office.  Watching 40-Year-Old Virgin, however, reminded me just how well he can handle a different part, by turns pathetic and sympathetic.  What might have been a series of mean-spirited jokes at his character’s expense instead evolves into something much more affecting and, title notwithstanding, perhaps even familiar.

Andy Stitzer’s life consists of numerous geeky pursuits.  For the sake of plotting, his most important hobby is the collecting of action figures.  Painting models follows at some distance, an occasional device for monology.  (No one in such dire social straits would have a sidekick to bounce ideas off.)  This situation moves his coworkers to help Andy find Ms. Right or at least, as they say, Ms. Right Now.  Spoiler warning:  Hijinks and hilarity ensue.

The plot, simple, spare, and functional, serves largely as a framework to support the humour.  What it lacks in complexity, it gains in accessibility.  Very little feels forced.  Even the tangents feel less aimless than textural.  And to my surprise, I found the writing quite strong for a mass-consumption comedy.

Like the plot, the characters are simple and functional.  I suspect few in the audience will mourn their lack of depth, but the actors do bring some unexpected nuance to their performances.  Michael Caine once said that even actors who do not speak have things to do and say, but they (silently) decide against doing them.  Steve Carell and Paul Rudd demonstrate just such an approach in several scenes, particularly an early poker game.

In fact many of the characters entertain so overwhelmingly that Andy barely seems like a protagonist when compared to his friends.  The quest to find a suitable girlfriend is less his than theirs; Andy is not particularly taken with their ideas.  If anything, peer pressure works as the prime motivator in the story.  His friends eventually convince him that something is missing but — unless we assume his figurine-painting represents a personal desire to change — he never felt much missing in the first place.

Peer pressure as a motivator is one of few sour notes in the movie.  Some moments don’t feel true to the characters or their world:  the intended fate of Andy’s collection, for example, or a truly embarrassing musical sequence, like the reckless conjoining of Napoleon Dynamite with Anchorman.  Especially off-putting are lines like, “I realize now […] I was waiting for you” which, both glib and facile, is true to neither the movie’s humour, nor its occasional moments of refreshing insight.

Its few weaknesses bunch up near the end.  The resulting aftertaste could explain why this movie about a geek goes oddly absent from so many geek movie lists.  The movie may hit too close to home; no true geek wants to lose Their Stuff in order to achieve others’ dreams.  Still, the movie amuses more often than not and, happily, the humour doesn’t come at the expense of its charm and sensitivity.

And for all my reservations, the charm and sensitivity go a long way in endearing this movie to me.  As a teen, and even earlier, a friend of mine had a disconcerting fondness for raunchy comedies.  But for all his attempts to hook me on them, I never really bit.  With 40-Year-Old Virgin I see that, perhaps, it was less that I didn’t care for such comedies, and more that such comedies did not care for me.

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Rated R (18A) for language, nudity, and adult situations

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