Published Aug 21, 2013Unlike Anchorman, the production that announced the Apatow brand as a serious force in big screen comedy, the writer/producer's first turn in the director's chair, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, hasn't aged so well.
After eight years of watching Steve Carrell's awkward man-child shtick in various forms, it's become easy to endure the nervous tension caused by his social retardation. And with the edge of the star's comedic persona thusly blunted, we're left with a grab bag of supporting performances, hit-and-miss improvisations, and a clutch of extremely on-the-nose metaphors for our chaste protagonist's arrested emotional development (he's as uncomfortable unpacking his collectables as he is twiddling his winkie), all of it bearing the early signs of Apatow's now signature penchant for bloat.
Don't get me wrong, much of The 40-Year-Old Virgin is still quite funny. Most notably for the filthy tirades that spew from Gerry Bednob's dirty old mouth as an uppity electronics salesman and Leslie Mann's performance as a severely inebriated "hood rat" prone to erratic driving and the projectile vomiting of colourful daiquiris.
It's a film heavily reliant on gross-out gags and bawdy talk. Some bits work much better than others and appreciation will vary depending upon the viewer's receptiveness to lazy homophobia as humour. Seth Rogan takes full responsibility/credit/blame for the cheap "you know how I know you're gay?" joke running throughout the film. To be fair, it doesn't feel malicious at all and these characters are clearly idiots, but that doesn't make the use of casual marginalization any less lame, especially since none of the juvenile jabs are especially creative.
Elsewhere, the puritanical fear and reverence for materialistic iconography (don't fuck with God or Iron Man) that has imprisoned Andy his own pants competes for space thematically with the need of every mainstream romance-oriented comedy to maintain a clear trajectory towards a happy ending, with a few conveniently placed hiccups along the way.
Another point against is Paul Rudd, who is widely regarded as one of the most likeable actors in Hollywood, yet here he plays a whiney, petulant douche. Acting against type is a good thing, but being a black hole of annoying suck every time you're on screen is not. But then we have Jane Lynch, offering to tenderly walk Andy through her weathered coital gates, and the scales are almost balanced again.
Like the Apatow-directed movies that would follow, The 40 Year Old Virgin has heart, an appreciable sense of honesty, and a sizeable funny bone, but it lacks perspective.
The 40-Year-Old Virgin screens as part of the TOGA! The Reinvention of American comedy retrospective at 9pm on August 22nd, 2013 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. On Friday, August 23rd at 9pm, American Pie will screen with Eugene Levy in attendance. (Universal)