The 40 Year Old Virgin

(Judd Apatow, USA, 2005)


In The 40 Year Old Virgin, Steve Carell manages to break through where Will Ferrell has stalled. Both are known for their association with a madcap, absurdist comedy that is so obsessed with pop culture irony that it rarely involves the viewer in a conventionally emotional way – especially over the long haul of an entire feature film.


There is plenty in this movie to remind us of a film that starred both Carell and Ferrell, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004). There are the relentless jokes about trashy television shows of the 1970s, over-the-hill pop performers and lifestyle fads (such as speed dating). There are kitschy flashbacks and elaborate musical interludes. And there is a lot of mugging and colourful swearing from Andy (Carell) and his work pals at Smart Tech, David (Paul Rudd), Jay (Romany Malco) and Cal (Seth Rogen).


But Andy has a special problem: at the age of 40, he is still a virgin. Worse still, even as his friends contrive every possible way for him to have meaningless, dirty sex, Andy falls for a “hot grandmother”, Trish (Catherine Keener), and decides they should pursue a sex-free relationship.


Few films of the trash comedy variety have so skillfully juggled riotous scenes devoted to supposedly kinky goings-on with a sweet, touching love story. Carell is wonderful to watch as he modulates from Jerry Lewis-style grotesqueness to shy-guy pathos – often in the space of a single scene. And director/co-writer Judd Apatow has surrounded him with some expert character actors, including Kat Dennings as Marla, Trish’s grumpy teenage daughter.


There is much to savour in The 40 Year Old Virgin, as in Superstar (1999) or Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004). The cultural references are, for a change, deliciously specific (such as the advice to Andy to behave “like David Caruso in Jade”); the narrative set-ups and pay-offs are pleasing; and the finale, set to “The Age of Aquarius”, will send you out smiling.

© Adrian Martin October 2005

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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