Oh, to be 40 again — ‘Virgin’
territory has pair of gems

“The 40 Year Old Virgin” is memorable comedy of the R-rated variety. Two scenes put it into film royalty.

One is the closing scene, when the cast performs a group Woodstock-esque dance and sings “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In.” This is one of the greatest movie endings ever produced. It resonates with the rare euphoria of realizing that someone very close to us finally knows our darkest secret or greatest insecurity — and it honestly, truly, does not matter.

Most critics seemed to dismiss it if they even mentioned it, although Roger Ebert praises it, writing “At the end, for no good reason except that it strikes exactly the perfect (if completely unexpected) note, the cast performs a Bollywood version of ‘Age of Aquarius.’ ”

The second monumental moment is far more subtle and likely never mentioned in any other review of “The 40 Year Old Virgin.” It is the laugh of Catherine Keener’s Trish when her boyfriend is sparring verbally with her daughter. This scene could easily be overlooked by many directors as a necessary nuisance, i.e., show the kids gradually warming to Andy.

But a decisive statement about Andy can be made here. As writers, director Judd Apatow and star Steve Carell might not’ve been up to the task; they only set up this scene with pedestrian dialogue. It’s Keener who hits the grand slam of judgment calls with the loveliest, most perfectly timed laugh one will ever hear after Carell and the girls (Kat Dennings, Chelsea Smith) load the bases for her.

Marla (Dennings), the older girl, is scoffing at Andy’s fake-ear magic trick, but Andy has an answer for every dig. “You know, I can come to your high school and do it for your friends if you want,” Andy tells Marla, who is not impressed and says so to her mom.

“ ’Cause he, he doesn't have a car, and he does magic. Awesome.”

“And sarcasm is like a second language to me, so I’m right there with ya,” Andy says in a clumsy afterthought of a line that nevertheless unleashes the legendary howl from Keener. In this showdown of cooldom, Trish’s response is the signal that Andy has prevailed. She is not denouncing her daughter nor giving Andy a phony vote of confidence. She is naturally reacting to something she realizes she likes. For Andy, this is not a gloating victory, but a human being finally asserting himself with the opposite sex and realizing: He’s actually good at it.

The strength of those scenes, plus the notoriety given to several of the comedy sequences, might suggest the film is just an episodic treasure like “Caddyshack.” That would be overrating it in laughs and selling it short in story. “Virgin” has considerable heart and an engaging narrative. Andy has let slip information that is trouble in the wrong hands. What will he do about it?

His friends are eager to find him the easiest, and least-fulfilling, version of sex, the kind they prefer. Smartly, Apatow and Carell create Andy as completely open-minded on this subject, an almost unfathomable clean slate. Andy is smart, and no doubt would have opinions on sex, liberal or conservative, forged by any of the above: his parents, siblings, religious influences (if any), friends, and his lifelong interaction with females.

Apatow doesn’t risk introducing any of these. Andy will ultimately choose a path many conservatives would approve of, even if they don’t approve of the sideshow along the way. The beauty is that his realization is not based on advice/pressure he received as a child, but by open-minded thinking as a middle-age adult that vindicates the advice/pressure being given to one of the film’s much-younger characters, who respects it.

The movie in fact is reviewed by Marcus Yoars on a Web site of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family organization. Yoars describes the film as a “should-have-been-rated-NC-17 smutfest,” but concedes, “Amazingly, Andy remains abstinent until his wedding night, honoring — in a very twisted way — the very thing everything and everyone else in the movie relentlessly derides.”

The message is not twisted, and is not derided by everyone else in the movie. In fact it is almost universally celebrated. Andy enters with no viewpoint on the subject of sex. He gives every approach and philosophy a chance. In the end he chose what was right for him, what mattered to him, and dismissed what did not. In doing so, he vindicated an important lesson a mother was struggling to teach her daughter.

Marla, the teen girl, is at far greater risk than Andy. Andy is an adult who can afford to fool around, if he wants to, and survive a bad relationship. Marla is a high school student in a single-parent household capable of getting in serious trouble. Her right brain is screaming “Try sex!” but her left brain just won’t quite let her, under the guise of mother’s orders. Something about her frustration though sounds less directed at her mother than life itself. It’s cruel, she thinks, to be prevented from experimenting at something so wonderful. Surely she could sneak around while her mother works and try it. But she is more mature than she lets on, grasping for a reason to justify the abstinence she clings to.

Dennings’ sublety is so good, most people will never notice it. She never lets on that something is holding her back. Most will view her character, wrongly, as a pitiful measuring stick for Andy. Her visit with Andy to the teen-sex-advice group is remarkably warm. Mostly the clients are snarky boys (with out-of-touch parents) who might prey on girls like Marla. The contrast is immediately obvious — Marla and Andy are there to receive healthy advice; the others are there to better fulfill sex fantasies. When Marla leaves, with Andy’s support, it is clear the conclusion she has drawn ... and that the counselor will have her hands full with the remaining group.

Apatow chooses spot humor over Trish’s backstory, which might be too sober to feature anyway. She is probably a lot more unflappable than she should be. She’s a single parent, already a grandmother, not dating anyone, and seemingly can’t be 100 percent financially secure (though she does have a strip mall office for a business that could be run out of her home, so maybe she is wealthy and works for the fun of it). Maybe a bit controlling too, evidenced by her insistence Andy should grow up. She is perhaps a bit too relaxed about dating Andy, not particularly fearful that her children might drive away a man she’s falling for. That is not to say she should feel desperate. In her past, one must think, is a very troubling divorce, small children involved, a home and hearts broken, possible lingering messiness with visitation, child support payments, etc. This is an R-rated comedy that won’t dwell on those things.

Trish’s values are smartly kept on par with Andy’s. She would welcome the opportunity for sex, but only when it’s right, and refuses to push it when it isn’t. Moreover, she assumes Andy is already experienced and expects sex. Her values aren’t reflected nearly as much in dealing with Andy as they are in dealing with her daughter. Neatly, she ends up admiring his abstinence for the wrong reason — she thinks he only reluctantly agrees to the 20-date plan, when he is actually scared of the alternative — and once the plan crumbles, elevates the drama by forcing a confrontation over why it’s not happening.

Keener has certainly played deeper characters, probably all of them sensationally well. Trish though is maximum payoff for a limited script investment.

While a stronger story than “Caddyshack,” in which Danny Noonan’s life dilemma gets ignored after about 20 minutes, “Virgin” does succumb to inadequate episodic reaches. It is safe to say the film is too long, extended by sporadic filler. Tired erection jokes happen, one involving a ridiculously long phone call. An experience at speed-dating has a totally predictable outcome; it drags and fizzles, though not as mightily as a pointless confrontation between a black employee and black customer.

Some one-liners are major hits, including several involving an older Indian salesman (Gerry Bednob). Too many aren’t really funny. A useless argument ensues about whether an employee can stand outside and smoke while colleagues are having a conversation. A goofy customer seeking to buy disco boots at Trish’s store gets too much screen time. For some reason decent time is given to a birthday song at a Japanese restaurant. Maybe the most famous scene, of Andy getting a chest-waxing, does little to move the story along. It does, though, satisfy the many who watch it for the comedy.

Apatow and Carell, who wrote the script, didn’t give themselves quite enough options. Too much of the film is restricted to the electronics store, and the other locations — nightclubs and women’s apartments — seem too conveniently close, allowing characters to race to new scenes in record time. At one point Andy is compelled to approach a woman in a bookstore, but getting there requires a tedious journey with his employee Kal, hauling a TV set across a walkway while Kal dispenses a much longer series of advice than necessary. To compensate is a lame gag about dropping the TV and the padding in its box that unfortunately casts Andy as an incompetent.

The supporting cast featuring Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd and Romany Malco among others, is superior to others in the Apatow tree such as “Knocked Up” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” The goal is A) to provide laughs, and B) to provide a sharp contrast between Andy and others who aren’t as enlightened as he is.

By the end, they’re convinced Andy is doing the right thing, to the point they band together to prevent him from suddenly doing the wrong thing. One of them has finally settled down with his own girlfriend, another has finally learned to move on, another might finally have found his own Ms. Right. It doesn’t seem like they are capable of ever finding the bliss that Andy does, but they’re giving it a shot.

The raunchiness of “Virgin” can hold its own with anything of an R rating. Virtually nothing is spared: Sex, body parts, race, ethnicity, bestiality, porn, menstrual cycles, drugs all make the cut. The erection joke, repeated, seems silliest, though Apatow seems to like it the best.

“Virgin” is the standard-bearer of the Apatow Genre, a strange mix of ribald sex material with positive values. Few will see it for the latter. They’re gettin’ some; they just don’t know it. What Andy’s doing isn’t contagious. But he’s on to something.

4 stars
(May 2009)

“The 40 Year Old Virgin” (2005)
Starring Steve Carell as Andy Stitzer ♦ Catherine Keener as Trish ♦ Paul Rudd as David ♦ Romany Malco as Jay ♦ Seth Rogen as Cal ♦ Elizabeth Banks as Beth ♦ Leslie Mann as Nicky ♦ Jane Lynch as Paula ♦ Gerry Bednob as Mooj ♦ Shelley Malil as Haziz ♦ Kat Dennings as Marla ♦ Jordan Masterson as Mark ♦ Chelsea Smith as Julia ♦ Jonah Hill as eBay Customer ♦ Erica Vittina Phillips as Jill ♦ Marika Dominczyk as Bernadette ♦ Mindy Kaling as Amy ♦ Mo Collins as Gina ♦ Gillian Vigman as Woman at Speed Dating ♦ Kimberly Page as Woman at Speed Dating ♦ Siena Goines as Woman at Speed Dating ♦ Charlie Hartsock as Speed Dating MC ♦ Nancy Walls as Health Clinic Counselor ♦ Cedric Yarbrough as Dad at Health Clinic ♦ David Koechner as Dad at Health Clinic ♦ Jeff Kahn as Dad at Health Clinic ♦ Nick Lashaway as Boy at Health Clinic ♦ Loren Berman as Boy at Health Clinic ♦ Julian Foster as Boy at Health Clinic ♦ Loudon Wainwright as Priest ♦ Lee Weaver as Joe ♦ Gloria Helena Jones as Sara ♦ Jazzmun as Prostitute ♦ Miki Mia as Waxing Lady ♦ Denise Meyerson as Robin ♦ Shannon Bradley as Bar Girl ♦ Brianna Lynn Brown as Bar Girl ♦ Elizabeth Carey as Bar Girl ♦ Elizabeth DeCicco as Bar Girl ♦ Hilary Shepard as Bar Girl ♦ Barret Swatek as Bar Girl ♦ Carla Gallo as Toe-Sucking Girl ♦ Michael Bierman as 16 Year-Old Andy ♦ Marisa Guterman as Girl with Braces ♦ Stormy Daniels as Porn Star ♦ Kevin Hart as Smart Tech Customer ♦ Wayne Federman as Smart Tech Customer ♦ Ron Marasco as Smart Tech Customer ♦ Joseph T. Mastrolia as Smart Tech Customer ♦ Kate Luyben as Woman Buying Videotapes ♦ Joseph A. Nuñez as Man Buffing Floor ♦ Matthew McKane as Motorist ♦ Rose Abdoo as Mother at Restaurant ♦ Steve Bannos as Father at Restaurant ♦ Brooke Hamlin as Daughter at Restaurant ♦ Miyoko Shimosawa as Waitress at Restaurant ♦ Marilyn Dodds Frank as Woman Who Bought Television ♦ Laura Bottrell as College Girl ♦ Ann Christine as Kim ♦ Penny Drake as Redhead ♦ Jenna Fischer as Woman #1 ♦ Mandy Freund as Speed Dater ♦ Nicole Randall Johnson as Speed Dater ♦ Brandon Killham as Young Andy ♦ Stephanie Lemelin as Woman #2 ♦ Jamie Elle Mann as Newswoman ♦ Acacia Morgan as Bar Patron ♦ Suzy Nakamura as Speed Dater ♦ Brittney Skye as Porn Actress ♦ Phyllis Smith as Andy’s Mother ♦ Wyatt Smith as Boy at Wedding ♦ Kira Turnage as Customer ♦ Christa Nicole Wells as Shopping Girl ♦ Christopher T. Wood as Cop

Directed by: Judd Apatow

Written by: Judd Apatow
Written by: Steve Carell

Producer: Judd Apatow
Producer: Shauna Robertson
Producer: Clayton Townsend
Co-producer: Seth Rogen
Associate producer: Andrew Jay Cohen
Executive producer: Jon Poll
Executive producer: Steve Carell

Original music: Lyle Workman
Cinematography: Jack Green
Editing: Brent White
Casting: Marla Garlin ♦ Allison Jones
Production design: Jackson De Govia
Art direction: Tom Reta
Set decoration: K.C. Fox
Costume design: Debra McGuire
Production supervisor: Gary R. Wordham
Unit production manager: Clayton Townsend
Makeup and hair: Ann Pala Taylor ♦ Thomas Real ♦ Felicity Bowring ♦ Corrina Duran ♦ Kim Santantonio ♦ Nancy Tong-Heater ♦ Gary Archer ♦ Mike Mekash
Stunts: Buddy Joe Hooker ♦ Mitch Davenport ♦ Shawn Odum ♦ Jimmy Roberts ♦ Billy Burton Jr. ♦ Eddy Donno ♦ Tony Donno ♦ Debbie Evans ♦ Tim Gilbert ♦ Greg Harris ♦ Jayme Jensen ♦ Shawn Kautz ♦ Ralph Odum ♦ Chad Randall ♦ Gayle Sherman ♦ Erik Stabenau ♦ Michael Weis ♦ Scott Wilder
Thanks: Mark Burnett ♦ Michael McDonald

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