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The 40-Year-Old Virgin

Without a doubt, Andy Stitzer (Steve Carell) is one of us. His taste may not be the greatest, as he has a framed Marvel Age comic book on his wall, but he more than makes up for that with the sheer volume of his collections. At one point, he admits to having 47 G.I. Joes (we assume the classic version) in their original packaging. For some, he would seem to have a perfect life, but for one thing. He is The 40-Year-Old Virgin.

Once that fact slips out, co-writer/director Judd Apatow can get his plot rolling. To be fair to those that savor structure, it's really not much of a plot, more a series of black-out sketches detailing Andy's inner life and his friends' struggle to get him in bed with a woman. But it works, and manages to be both outrageous and low-key.

Building from a sketch set at a poker game, co-writer Carell carefully explores his character but also gives his co-stars plenty to work with. This is a hard film to explain, as it has a pretty positive message but doesn't shy away from just how gross guys can be when they hang out together.

And they are gross, in various states of arrested development when it comes to women. Jay (Romany Malco) thinks of himself as a true playa, advising Andy that he's got to set his sights low so he can get some experience before finding the woman he really wants.

Agreeing but with a different energy, Cal (Seth Rogen) coaches Andy in seeming aloof and mysterious to bookstore clerk Beth (Elizabeth Banks). It works, but not quite the way Cal had intended.

Rounding out Andy's circle of friends, Paul Rudd turns his confident persona on its ear as David. The guy may have the healthiest attitude out of the three, but he's fixated on a relationship he had two years earlier. The script is smart enough to sneak in both sides of the story, too, for good effect.

As for Andy, he just wants to find somebody nice. Being a virgin isn't so much a conscious decision as it just never quite worked out. And we see how it didn't quite work out in a montage of cringe-inducing scenes. When single mom (and hot Grandma) Trish (Catherine Keener) literally walks into his life, it's clear that for Andy, a relationship is both destined and too much work.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin is not a perfect comedy. Though the laughs keep coming, a few scenes show the seams of being tacked onto a sketch idea. Trish owns a "We Sell It On eBay For You" store. Though such things do exist and Carell and Apatow try to do something with it, the scene set in that store ends up being weird and goes nowhere.

The concept works, as it provides a turning point for Andy. When Trish suggests he sell his collection so he can open a stereo store, it's not just Andy that freezes. The whole audience does. Be warned that for just a moment, this is a horror film.

It's also still hard to decide if the idea of Trish having a 21-year-old with a daughter herself makes any sense, as they're the only two characters referenced that never appear, though they weigh heavily upon the guys' estimation of Trish.

Apatow hasn't quite adjusted to directing for the big screen yet, either. The lighting has a flat feel more suited to television, and many scenes are framed for the boob tube. But he also has an incredible touch for capturing nuance, as he showed in series like Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared. Brilliant but slightly offbeat actors like Carell, that can deliver funny but natural cadences, need directors like Apatow.

And then there's the chest-waxing scene. Shot live, and quite possibly with a hapless real-life beautician (she can't decide if she's horrified or amused by the cursing Carell throws at her), it may be the single most brilliant comedy scene of the year.

In a movie with a lot of winners like that, it's easy to forgive the flaws.


Derek McCaw

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