Andy (Steve Carell, "Anchorman") is an obsessive toy collector, works full-time at an electronics store, rides a bicycle, and has never had sex. When Andy's coworkers (Paul Rudd, Seth Rogan, and Romany Malco) learn about his lack of experience, they swarm him, teaching him to look better, act more confident, and to never take his eyes off the prize. However, geeky Andy just can't get it together. When a kind divorcee (Catherine Keener) takes a shine to Andy, the virgin panics, and is faced with a real possibility that he might have to have sex with this woman, which sends him on an adventure of love he's never experienced before.
The last of the trilogy of R-rated comedies for the 2005 summer season, "The 40 Year-Old Virgin" (IMDb listing) turns out to be the best of them. This peculiar expedition into the world of an undersexed man is the type of material that could go wrong in a million different ways. Too broad, and you risk National Lampoon wanting to put their moniker on the film. Too serious, and the film will be playing to empty theaters. Enter Judd Apatow.
Apatow is the mastermind behind such television shows as "Freaks & Geeks," "Undeclared," and "The Ben Stiller Show." Over the course of his career, Apatow has mastered the art of staging broad, absurdist comedy with a dash of reality thrown in, which is a perfect gift for "Virgin," his long overdue directorial debut. Apatow, with star and co-writer Steve Carell, has created a ripe opportunity to frolic in the fields of hilarity, and "Virgin" seldom lets an opportunity for a laugh slip by. From Andy's geekified, toy-centric existence (and tight connection to his Steven Austin doll) and his butching up for love (by getting his chest waxed -- a film highlight) to the terror that sets in once the goal of his quest is within reach, "Virgin" is completely hilarious.
A fan of the absurd and the obscene, Apatow has thrown in plenty of little treats for the audience, including a dynamite reference to the William Friedkin thriller "Jade," and, when Andy tries speed dating, a view of the world's loosest top on a woman who could use all the covering she can find. "Virgin" is a proud R-rated affair, with Apatow and Carell lovingly embracing the naughty atmosphere the concept is begging to indulge.
Take away all the obscenities and the morning erection gags, and the real shocker of "Virgin" is how well Steve Carell acquits himself in the lead role. Always a mid-tempo comedic performer, Carell plays Andy beautifully, allowing his fantastic supporting cast (not a bad apple in the bunch) to take many of the laughs, and coming through with his own bit of magic when needed. Carell also manages to make Andy sympathetic, but not in a puppy dog way. The frustration of the character is always percolating, keeping Andy away from sainthood. It's a stellar lead performance from Carell, and I hope it's not the last.
Much like the July smash "Wedding Crashers," "Virgin" feels the need to commit two crimes. First, the film runs a shocking two hours in length. There's nothing even remotely important in the film that warrants that kind of attention. Second, the picture stops being funny for a beat in the final act. Apatow doesn't know when to close his film, allowing the story to find some dramatic edges when that's the last thing it needs. The damage isn't severe, but it is overwhelmingly annoying considering just how well the concoction was cooking before the film started taking itself too seriously. Sadly, Apatow and Carell feel the need to artificially inject sympathy into the film when they've had it all along.
"40-Year-Old Virgin" hits swell comedic highpoints, and the sheer vibe of the picture is so cheery and bawdy that it's impossible to hate. Not having sex has never been this much fun.
Filmfodder Grade: A-