3½ stars (out of four)
Andy Stitzer, the titular protagonist of "The 40 Year-Old Virgin," drinks Fanta, meticulously assembles egg salad sandwiches, frames Asia concert posters and counts among his beloved action figures "The Six Million Dollar Man's" boss.
But in the able hands and open face of "Daily Show" alum Steve Carell, these are not the reasons for Andy's sexual innocence. Much more than the byproduct of a geeky, figurine-collecting existence, Andy's longstanding virginity is owed to a pretty normal life stifled by fairly common social anxiety, garden-variety self-loathing, remarkably ordinary emotional repression, a few wrong turns and some very bad timing. It could happen to the best of us (minus the Oscar Goldman doll).
Much like its comic cousin twice removed"Wedding Crashers""The 40 Year-Old Virgin's" Big Joke is summed up in its title. But unlike this summer's first comic smash, "Virgin" is that joke and much, much more. Sure, Andy endures some awkward moments with aggressive women, and sure, he gets tangled up in his own condom, and sure, he likens women's breasts to bags of sand, but, as written by Carell and director Judd Apatow, Andy's also the sweet man who asks his friend, in all earnestness and nervousness, if he's a good-looking guy. (He is.)
Once Andy is outed as a virgin at workhe's a stock boy at Smart Tech, a Best Buy-like superstore where the HDTVs play Michael McDonald Live on constant loophis coworkers Jay, Cal and David (Romany Malco, Seth Rogen and Paul Ruddall hilarious) set out to right this wrong, their advice running the gamut from David's esoteric wisdom ("love is a mysterious fig") to Cal's astute guidance (How to talk to the ladies? "Be David Caruso in 'Jade'").
Rudd, Carell and Apatow all worked together on "Anchorman," and "Virgin" only raises the stupid-funny boy-joke bar. If you didn't think it could get much better than the battle of the eyewitness news teams, brace yourself for Andy's chest waxing, for which Carell risked life and limb and nipple to great effect. (Watch for the blood on his chestno stunt man hereand Rudd's horrified real-time reaction.) Being of the lady variety, I can't write with absolute authority on male interaction, but when Cal and David play Mortal Kombat (eyes glued to TV, fingers as nimble as Chet Atkins') and trade gay barbs, it just feels right. Plus, every other word between them is a word I can't write. Perfecto.
But there's a soft center here, and her name is Catherine Keener. As Trish, the owner of the We Sell Your Stuff on eBay Store and Andy's eventual love interest, Keener easily side-steps her angular appearance and sharp-edged persona ("Being John Malkovich," "Lovely and Amazing") to play a real salt-of-the-earth typewarm, open, grounded, full of love. Jilted by bad-boys in the past and already old enough to have a daughter with a daughtershe's a "hot grandma," says CalTrish isn't eager to jump into bed with Andy, so instead the two fall in love first. Which is about the sweetest, most uplifting thing I've seen on screen all summer, rivaled only by the quiet pleasure Andy takes in finally being one of the guys.
It's no surprise that this balance between raunchy comedy and sweet, sweet love comes from first time director Apatowheretofore a producer/writer of such unmatched television endeavors as "The Larry Sanders Show," "The Ben Stiller Show" and "Freaks and Geeks," the latter my vote for best show evah and a fine example of Apatow's hipster-meets-dork-meets-mom style. Apatow avoids the cliches of romantic comedy by focusing as much on the detailsAndy's argyle sweater and morning erection, the innate comedy of a store without merchandiseas he does on Trish and Andy's blossoming relationship.
Apatow is also brave to rest his debut on the shoulders of Steve Carell, a very funny guy whose name rings zero bells in most of America. Who is that weird man in the funny poster, mommy?So, can Carell carry a movie? Hilarious as a nearly retarded weatherman in "Anchorman" and if not hilarious, then brave to take on Ricky Gervais' role in the American version of BBC's "The Office," Carell is a master of deadpan. He's also vulnerable and loveable here, making what could have been a freakish sexual circumstance into something entirely human. While you and I might think a 40-year-old virgin would jump at any chance of sex, Carell makes Andy's virginity part of his identity, something that, after all these years, is actually strangeeven difficultto give up. (If you're welling up, don't. "Virgin" is as funny and outlandish as it is touching.)
So the answer is, unequivocally, yes. Yes, Steve Carell can carry a movie. Yes, Judd Apatow can direct a movie. Yes, we'll all relate to a middle-aged virgin. And yes, when an aesthetician yells to her assistant "we're gonna need more wax," you best run.
'The 40 Year-Old Virgin'
Directed by Judd Apatow; written by Apatow and Steve Carell; photographed by Jack Green; edited by Brent White; production designed by Jackson De Govia; music by Lyle Workman; produced by Apatow, Clayton Townsend and Shauna Robertson. A Universal Films release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:56. MPAA rating: R (pervasive sexual content, language and some drug use).
Andy Stitzer - Steve Carell
Trish - Catherine Keener
David - Paul Rudd
Jay - Romany Malco
Cal - Seth Rogen
Paula - Jane LynchCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times