Back in 2005, when Seth Rogen was nowhere near as annoying as he is today, The 40 Year-Old Virgin marked the beginning of Director/Writer/Producer Judd Apatow’s reign over the comedy genre that four years later is undoubtedly, still going strong. In many ways, The 40 Year-Old-Virgin represents everything that is right with the Apatow style of comedy, as it mostly avoids the cliched perversions of his later efforts, but retains the attractive sincerity of his characters that enable the audience to connect to them and their predicaments much easier. Among other things The40 Year-Old Virgin also contains the now familiar episodic structure that became almost an annoyance in Superbad, but here it adds a nice pace to the proceedings which makes the 2+ hour running time pass by rather briskly. Arguably the best part about Virgin is that it starts out with a very simple story that anyone can get their head around and builds upon it using some interesting turns of events that spring out of the clever screenplay written by Apatow and the film’s star Steve Carell.
The film tells the story of a 40 year old loner by the name of Andy Spitzer (Steve Carell) who appears to be the very definition of a geek. He collects action figures that never come out of their boxes, he does not drive a car but rides a bike to work because he does not yet have a license, and he is an introvert whose friends fear may be a serial killer. But, in the course of one faithful poker game, when Andy unsuccessfully participates in a raunchy guy talk episode, his co-workers David (Paul Rudd), Jay (Romany Malco), and Cal (Seth Rogen) find out that he has never hd sex, except with himself – a fact that they are determined to change, even against Andy’s will.
The film walks a fine moral line, which if crossed, may have led to a backlash by the general public. The reason the film was met with a positive reaction, is because of the screenplay’s reluctance to label Andy as the symbol for abstinence, and also its portrayal of abstinence in a neutral, if not a positive light. In fact the characters in the film who are most critical of Andy’s being a virgin (Cal and Jay), are (purposefully?) written as cardboard cutouts without any inner demons. It is also an important point that their sex-obsessed behavior, it may be noted, has not led them any further in life than Andy. They are neither more successful within their careers, nor are they more successful in their relationships. The only way Cal is getting laid is if the girl is drunk, Jay is reduced to simply fantasizing about sleeping with promiscuous women while being tied up in a controlling relationship,and Andy is a emotional wreck who still pines for his ex-girlfriend and refuses to see any other women. It is arguable than that these characters are in fact, living vicariously through Andy’s quest to lose his virginity. This is an intelligent move by writers Apatow and Carrell that certainly puts this above other films in its genre.
Still, The 40 Year Old Virgin is not without its flaws. While its predictability is in fact the easiest thing to forgive about it, the script’s other mistakes, mainly the tendency to sacrifice character arches in order to increase the comedy to drama ratio makes it a flaccid dramedy. Apatow ventures into dramatic territory in the third act of the film when Trish (Catherine Keener) who is bound to be the love of Andy’s life, starts suspecting he is hiding something and cuts their relationship short. Here Apatow feels the sudden impulse to insert unneeded and shallow comedic episodes involving Cal, Jay and Andy that stop the narrative in its track. Apatow may be a good filmmaker, but he lacks the bravery to surprise his audience with strong melodrama in the last act, which leaves the viewer simply satisfied, and not wholly fulfilled.
That isn’t to say that the film fails in delivering its message that one’s sexual lifestyle is a quality that he or she shouldn’t be judged for. Sex is in the end, a big deal, and Apatow recognizes it as a thematic element that needs to be treated as such. This comes-off best in Kat Denning’s wonderful portrayal of Trish’s teenage daughter Marla who believes she is entitled to having sex at her young age, even if that may not be the case. The character’s progression toward a change-of-heart near the end of the film keeps her from being a stereotype and the emotional bond that forms between her and Andy helps them both out in the end.