40-Year-Old Virgin: Apatow Funny, Raunchy Comedy, Starring Steve Carell

Funnier and raunchier than “The Wedding Crashers,” “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” is an R-rated comedy that despite its crass surface and foul language has a sweet, almost na center. With all the cursing and rude (some in bad taste) jokes, this aptly titled movie is not about sex or losing virginity, but about falling in love for the first time at middle age.

In his biggest screen role to date, the extremely likable Steve Carell is well cast as Andy Stitzer, the title character. The comedy also offers an excellent role to Catherine Keener, as Andy’s love interest, Trish, the quirky, affable woman who sees him as more than just an untouched curiosity.

Carell is best known for his appearances on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” and breakout performances in “Bruce Almighty,” a Jim Carrey vehicle, and “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” starring Will Ferrell. In both of these comedies, he stole scenes from his more established thespians, and now he gets to be centerstage.

Producer Judd Apatow (“Anchorman,” “Kicking & Screaming,” “The Cable Guy”) makes a decent (but no more) directorial debut with a feature that he co-scripted with Carell. The idea of a comedic take on a sweet-natured middle-aged virgin is based on a sketch Carell created while performing with the improv comedy troupe, Second City. Over the years, Carell continued to work on the sketch, trying out different scenarios for the 40-year-old man with the “big secret.”

The film charts Andy’s odyssey from never-done-it to been-there-done that, as he follows the disastrous but well-meaning advice from his co-workers, endures humiliating escapades, and almost gives up in search for the one chance to satisfy his long-delayed gratification. Through the misguided efforts of his cohorts, Andy begins an “educational” journey toward finally “doing it.”

“The 40-Year-Old Virgin” is yet another coming-of-age story, except that the protagonist is not an adolescent but a middle-aged man, an over-the-hill loner who remains virgin almost despite himself. Though a funny story, rife with bawdy gems, the movie may be stretched for too long with endless variations of the central motif. Yet at least half of the yarn is so hilarious and even poignant that youre willing to close one eye and disregard the bad scenes.

The movie is made in the tradition of 1970s and 1980s unrestrained comedies, such as “The Jerk” and “Animal House,” which were not “dirty” but didn’t have the handcuff on either. As director and co-scripter, Apatow is determined not to set any limits on the characters. He lets them speak–and curse–the way they would do in real life.

A film titled “40 Year-Old-Virgin” screams sex, a gimmicky formula that gives the filmmakers free rein in terms of the outlandish bits. However, rather shrewdly, they have made a concerted effort to balance the tale’s obvious sexual aspects with characters that remain decent and grounded, despite being off-the-wall.

On the surface, the comedy is about finding ways to get laid quickly, but deep down, it’s about people looking for the love of their lives, struggling to find true happiness. Apatow and Carell are able to locate the humor within both the mundane and the outrageous with equal measure, and they infuse that comedic sensibility into the various situations.

Even more so than “Wedding Crashers,” the appeal of this movie depends entirely on the charm of the character and the charisma of the actor who plays him. And indeed, the boyishly handsome Carell shows ability to dissolve audiences into laughter with his myriad of facial expressions and innate physicality.

Andy is a regular guy who has experienced so many missed opportunities at sex that he eventually gives up trying. The comedy is as much about Andy learning about himself, as it is about him losing his virginity. He is a decent person, a bit on the shy side, who slowly learns who he is and what’s important to him.

While not a hermit, Andy is an introvert who keeps to himself amidst his collections. He lives in an apartment full of action figures, comic books, and video games that occupy every inch of his bachelor pad, and later prove to be invaluable elements to the progression of the story.

Though the movie strains to come up with plausible reasons for Andy’s virginity, it is to Carell’s credit that his Andy doesn’t come across as weirdo or pervert; the first stereotype he needs to dispel is that he’s gay. Most people have built-in performance anxiety, and for some this phobia prevents them from taking risks. (Woody Allen has made a career out of this type of man). At the heart of the comedy is a rather na romanticism, which would motivate audiences to root for Andy to prevail and find true love.

Andy’s buddies at the Smart Tech store are an integral part of his (mis) education. Like Andy, at first glance, they embody every bad, misogynistic attitude toward women, but deep down, they are sweet guys with the best intentions, trying to cover their own horrible theories on–and terrible experiences with–women.

Paul Rudd (“Anchorman”) and Seth Rogen (who co-starred in and co-wrote Apatow’s TV series “Freaks and Geeks” and “Underclass”) play Andy’s cohorts, David and Cal, respectively. Deceptively good-looking and intelligent, David is actualy a lovelorn, self-destructive guy, still lamenting being dumped by his girlfriend. Perpetually horny, Cal, the youngest character (still in his twenties), has his insecurities, too.

Rounding out the quartet of workerswho are like a chorus in a Greek tragedy–is Jay (Romany Malco, who had previously appeared with Rudd in the indie “The Chateau”), the streetwise, trash-talking womanizer. Jay sets the tone for the group’s antics as they lead Andy astray. He runs around sleeping with women, without ever making any real connection with them. Jay begins as Andy’s sexual antithesis and turns out to be the most normal of the bunch, learning along with Andy his own life lessons.

Andy’s run-ins with the opposite sex include Beth (Elizabeth Banks of “Wet Hot American Summer”), the sexy bookstore clerk who’s immediately intrigued by Andy’s enigmatic demeanor. In contrast, Nicky (Leslie Mann, Apatow’s wife) plays a party girl, drunk enough to succumb to Andy’s clumsy first attempt at a pickup. She is another sexpot with whom Andy is eager to sleepuntil she drives him crazy in what’s probably the film’s worst scene.

Fortunately, Andy’s ultimate love interest, Trish, is played by the great Catherine Keener, who finally gets a studio picture worthy of her talents. A beautiful fortysomething suburban mother, with family secrets of her own, Trish is the one to capture Andy’s heart. Like the other women who fall for his generosity and innocent charm, she’s immediately smitten when he readily agrees to have no sex at all during their first 20 dates. Carell and Keener, who inject realism into her role, display strong chemistry onscreen.

Watching the movie, you feel the actors have mined their own good, bad, and humiliating sexual experiences. As embarrassing as they sometimes are, bits and pieces of personal stories have been incorporated into the script. Apatow has an easy, free-flowing directing approach for this kind of rude and crude comedy, but he is not proficient with the more technical properties, like visual style; the movie looks bland.

Most of the film is set in a San Fernando mini shopping mall. Studio City’s casual eatery serves as the setting for one of the film’s most hilarious scenes, a speed-dating sequence in which Andy and his pals each meet a myriad of women via timed, five-minute “dates.”

But the comedy’s piece de resistance is a sequence at a beauty parlor, where Andy is getting his hairy chest waxed to some hilarious–and literally bloody–results

Walking a fine line between a crass, bawdy comedy and a sweet romance, “The 40-Year-Old-Virgin” has plenty of charm. I have no doubts that the DVD version will include many more raunchy bits that didn’t make it to the theatrical version.