Hey, I went to see a juvenile sex comedy and an actual love story broke out. The 40-Year-Old Virgin manages to shoehorn two wildly disparate storylines successfully into one film. On one hand, you have a raunchy workplace comedy about a trio of sex-starved low-lifes working in a store that suspiciously resembles Circuit City, while on the other you have a surprisingly sweet romantic comedy about two people with more on their mind than the horizontal lambada.
The connecting tissue between the two stories is Andy Stitzer (Steve Carell), a somewhat childlike forty-year-old man who dresses like his mother still shops at the Montgomery Ward outlet store. His entire social life seems to revolve around watching Survivor with the elderly couple upstairs and collecting action figures. Unsuccessful forays with the female gender have led him to write off sex as just too complicated.
When his co-workers invite him to fill out their poker night, the subject of conversation turns inevitably to that with which Andy has no experience. When it comes out that Andy is still a virgin, the reaction is first hilarity on the part of his co-workers, and then pity. They proceed, however, to pepper him with advice that, quite frankly, would seem to guarantee his future lack of sexual conquests.
Fortunately, Andy crosses paths with Trish (Catherine Keener), a single mom who makes her living selling things on Ebay. After he finally works up the courage to ask her out, they hit it off almost instantly. When Trish reveals that she’s in no hurry for their relationship to get physical, Andy is relieved and their romance develops along an arc that seems a lot more real and mature than the typical Hollywood love story.
Despite the raunchy surroundings, The 40-Year-Old Virgin is smart enough to know that Andy is better off going against his friends’ advice. The relationship with Trish is entirely his own doing, and, as the other characters’ romantic troubles come to the fore, Andy’s sheltered naiveté starts to resemble a form of wisdom. One co-worker rebounding from a break-up, David (Paul Rudd) decides that Andy has the right idea and swears off sex for good, leading his best friend, Cal (Seth Rogen), to conclude that he’s gay.
The film manages to get a lot right, especially the scene in which Andy works himself up to call Trish for the first time. Anyone who has been through that (and who hasn’t) will laugh at this scene just because it’s so true. The environment of the high-tech big box store also feels right, especially the almost predatory salesman (Gerry Bednob) who poaches his co-workers sales. If you’ve worked in that kind of place, you’ll recognize the type.
This film is far from perfect. A lot of the raunchier humor is pretty standard material, nothing you haven’t seen before is similar movies. And at nearly two hours, the R-rated version was probably too long for this genre. The unrated version balloons up to two-and-a-quarter hours, which is not a plus. I think the film wastes too much time on the sex-obsessed side-stories, because it works the best when it focuses on the growing relationship between Andy and Trish.
On the plus side, Steve Carell is remarkably winning as Andy, creating a character just exaggerated enough for comic effect without turning him in a pathetic figure of pity. Usually known for playing harder edged women, Catherine Keener polishes off those edges to show a sweeter, more vulnerable side.
The Forty-Year-Old Virgin is the rare sex comedy that might actually appeal to a demographic beyond the frat house kegger crowd. The general level of raunch will dissuade some but if you can tolerate that, you’ll find a good heart beating beneath its sweaty, leering exterior.