Directed by Judd Apatow. US. 2005.


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American screen comedy has seen a return to the formula of mixing comedy with romance and vice versa, earlier this year we had Hitch with Will Smith running around after a non-white American (because America are not quite ready for that mixed-race relationship), but it had the journey of matchmaker falling into love with some hilarious moments attacking the vanity of Smith himself.  Other comedies this year have resorted to cheap laughs or returned to seventies show for their entertainment.  This has made the box-office success of The 40 Year Old Virgin all the more pleasing it is close to $100m alone in the American domestic market. 

The premise of the film is set up quickly over a card game between Andy (Steve Carell, who co-wrote) and his fellow workmates which descends into a conversation about sexual exploits which Andy fails at.  What the friends initially believe to be homosexual fumblings is in fact the sign of a virgin male.  As good friends they are the three of them, David (Paul Rudd), Jay (Romany Malco) and Cal (Seth Rogen) intend on getting Andy laid by any means.  So the film becomes a sort of American Pie tryst/pact film, but without the customary narrative signpost of the end-of-year prom.  Each one of the stereotyped males have their own baggage which affects the advice they pass on; David is still hung up on a relationship that ended two years ago, Jay is in a long-term relationship but still fools around and Cal is the pot smoker with no long-term companion.  The film cleverly makes sure you get to like all four of these guys and all their problems are resolved to our tastes by the end.

But the star of the show is Carell, who having flexed his muscles in Anchorman, Bruce Almighty and the American version of The Office, is given this platform to perform and we are given a rare comic persona, someone who can act disgruntled, funny and act while acting well but he is definitely of the less is more variety bordering on silent performance.  In a prolonged scene of removing his chest hair which becomes an insult onslaught, he leaves and walking back to his apartment the camera holds on the face and then zooms out to show his white shirt with bloodspots on it; a brilliant combination of character, prop and joke, Andy’s face is a picture.  (It is important to note I am referring to the character as Andy and not Steve the person playing him, unlike a Jim Carrey film where it is evident Jim is playing God or whatever role it may be.)

But like all American comedy nowadays you still have the gross moments, but here they are screened as necessary to the environment they are in – Andy being thrown up on by a prospective date and Andy pissing on himself in the morning, the moment and sense of embarrassment make the moment.

The sense of romance though in the film comes about by the character of Trish, played by Catherine Keener, who is made up to be the one for Andy because she is the one who talks to him and the one he likes.  But any relationship has trouble getting off the ground, but like Jerry Maguire, Trish has baggage in the form of children who Andy takes to heart and acts like a stepfather to both children, either buying them presents or acting as confidant about adult issues.

The film though does have a strong theme running through it and that is a dismissal of casual sex, all those who indulge in it are duly punished or are made out to be grotesque - Jay’s continual fooling around leads to him being kicked out by his girlfriend, eventually when he decides to be faithful he is rewarded by the arrival of an impending pregnancy, David descends into a bitter person once his attempts at gaining a sexual relationship back fails portraying him as markedly different from the jolly person at the start of the film (although he does find someone else by the end of the picture) and Cal’s insatiable thirst is paired off with Beth the ‘sexual freak’ from the bookshop.  Beth’s masturbation in the bath with a showerhead is given a shot-reverse-shot treatment, we see Andy looking at her and each shot of her is longer than the previous and all the more accusing as Andy sobers up and realises this is not the sort of relationship for him.  Andy decides Trish is the one for him and decides to come clean about his ‘life choice’ which leads to the resolution of marriage and the night that goes with it and ends the film.

I always hate having to review films that I very much enjoyed and this is the first film in a while I laughed out loud at (the last being Sideways) because while the laughs do tail off in the third act as Andy and Trish get centre stage, the previous two where Andy and his work colleagues have free rein is pleasing with some brilliant lines of dialogue which go against the racial and acceptable harmony portrayed by the SmartTech staff (‘So how come we are not invited to the party?  Are we Al-Qaeda?) and the one-upmanship between David and Cal as they discuss the possibility of David being gay because he chooses celibacy (‘Do you know how I know you’re gay? You like Coldplay.’)

The film is absolutely hilarious although the jokes fade away near the end because the running time proves too much of a distance to travel, although Carell shows he has the legs to travel and with Rudd providing hilarious support again we will not have to wait forty years for the next hit. 

Jamie Garwood
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