Sex and the Pocket Protector

Like one of the plastic-encased action figures that line his bedroom (and bathroom and living room) shelves, Andy Stitzer (Steve Carell) is all wrapped up. The stockroom manager at a San Fernando Valley consumer electronics store, he's never learned to drive, never had a steady girlfriend and, at the ripe old age of 40, he's never been laid. His sexual history is a chronology of embarrassing near misses (including a lesson in the dangerous combo of oral sex and orthodontics). But he's not gay, or impotent; his morning wood is as tall and mighty as a centuries-old oak. He's just a victim of circumstance, with his fatally unhip comb-over, a wardrobe pitched somewhere between science-geek chic and senior PGA tour, and his belief that whipping up a homemade egg-salad sandwich qualifies as an exciting leisure activity. So, you think you know where this is going, that The 40-Year-Old Virgin is on its way to being an American Pie for the post-post-pubescent set, and to some extent it is—it's about what happens when Andy's clean little secret gets out of the bag and his party-boy co-workers (Paul Rudd, Romany Malco and Seth Rogen) take him under their collective wing as a kind of charity case. But the unexpected thing about The 40-Year-Old Virgin is how much deeper it goes. It's an unconscionably funny sex farce that, by its end, turns into a tender and honest romance, an acute portrait of loneliness and, believe it or not, a musical. This is a movie Blake Edwards might have made.

As embodied by Carell (who also co-wrote the film with its director, Judd Apatow), Andy Stitzer is a brilliant comic creation—not because he's a mama's boy scared of his own dick's shadow, but because he springs forth from the darkest reaches of male sexual paranoia. He's what every pimply-faced teenager feared he might become, and the fact that Andy has gotten so used to his predicament—he doesn't even masturbate—only makes him that much more nightmarish. Carell and Apatow (whose canceled TV series, Freaks and Geeks, was itself a storehouse of pimply-faced teenage anxiety) have thought out every last detail of Andy's hermetic existence from the care with which he toasts his breakfast waffles to the precise way he tucks his pant legs into his socks before bicycling to work and how, when he finally sits down to watch a porno, he does the exact opposite of what you're supposed to do—he fast-forwards through the sex scenes in order to get back to the story. In a summer when much has been made about the return of R-rated raunch at the movies (as represented by the likes of Wedding Crashers and Deuce Bigalow), The 40-Year-Old Virgin is the only one of the bunch that feels like it could become a new classic. Watching it, you can imagine certain scenes becoming comic touchstones for a whole generation of moviegoers: the speed-dating encounter with a biker chick named Gina (as in va-gina); the montage sequence set to the theme song from The Greatest American Hero; and that priceless moment when Andy's breathy-voiced boss (Best in Show alum Jane Lynch) asks him to be her “fuck buddy.” (“I'm very discreet,” she purrs, “but I will haunt your dreams.”) And if Apatow isn't much of a visual director, it hardly matters, because he's a whiz at casting, and at encouraging those actors to riff off of one another's improvisational energy. When The 40-Year-Old Virgin is at its best, which is often, it seems to be flying by the seat of its pants, and it's exhilarating.

Then something truly miraculous happens: Andy Stitzer falls in love. With a middle-aged divorce. Who has three kids. And a grandchild. Called Trish and played wonderfully by Catherine Keener, she's nearly Andy's opposite, someone who's been around the relationship block enough times for the both of them. Even her job—running one of those we-sell-it-for-you-on-eBay stores—is symbolic: She spends her days trafficking in other people's unwanted goods. So she's attracted by Andy's innocence—turned on by it—even before she knows why he's so innocent, while he's inspired by her to finally put away childish things (or, at least, auction them on the Internet). Yet theirs is no easy courtship; as in life, there are arguments to be had, temperamental adolescents to be contended with and unavoidable truths to be revealed, and The 40-Year-Old Virgin is mercilessly honest about all that even as it is being ruthlessly funny. Sydney Pollack has often said of his Tootsie that it is the story of a man who becomes a better man for having been a woman. In much the same way, The 40-Year-Old Virgin is the story of a man who becomes a better lover for having been abstinent, though there's nothing puritanical about the movie's tone. It's simply a reminder that, sometimes, all good things really do come—so to speak—to those who wait.


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