THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Along with its (no pun intended) polar opposite, March of the Penguins, the new comedy The 40 Year-Old Virgin is a pleasant summer surprise. The former is a gorgeous, family-friendly nature epic, while the latter is a raunchy R-rated laugh-a-palooza about a middle-aged guy whoís never had sex. Both pictures come out of nowhere to trump bigger-budgeted and more heavily-hyped summer flicks in the quality department. Both inspire audience members to run out and tell their friends about the unbelievable movie theyíve just seen.

Steve Carell stars as Andy Stitzer, a shy loner-type who works in the stock room of an electronics store. Andyís life outside of work consists of playing video games, riding his bike, and collecting toys. (Superhero action figures are his favorite.) In short, heís never really grown up. After work one evening, Andy is invited to play cards with his co-workers: David (Paul Rudd), Cal (Seth Rogen), and Jay (Romany Malco). As it frequently does when men get together, conversation turns into locker room talk. It becomes clear that Andy is still a virgin, despite his best efforts to hide the fact. Amazed and overwhelmed with pity, the guys decide to rectify the situation by hooking Andy up with a loose book store clerk (Elizabeth Banks), taking him to a speed dating service, and even hiring a prostitute.

Andy is initially weary of the plan. Heís quite frankly afraid of women at this stage in the game. Then he meets a friendly woman named Trish (Catherine Keener) who runs a little store across the street. Andy genuinely likes her, and she likes him too. The guys, however, feel that Andy needs to have casual, meaningless sex for practice before he attempts it with someone for whom he cares. They continue to try hooking him up even as he starts a nice relationship with Trish. She initially doesnít push the issue of physical intimacy (which is fine and dandy with him) but somehow sex rears its head anyway. Andy tries to find a way to explain his virginity to Trish without scaring her off.

The 40 Year-Old Virgin mines a lot of laughs from the idea of this hapless guy trying to make up for lost time with the help of overzealous friends. In a scene that is destined to become a modern classic, the guys take Andy to have his excessive chest hair waxed off. With each painful rip, he either babbles nonsense or uncontrollably spews profane remarks. Itís one of those scenes that make you laugh, then cringe, then laugh again at the fact that youíre cringing. Other moments also produce gales of laughter. Upon discovering that Trish is a grandmother, Cal remarks that Andy will have to make love to her while watching ďMurder, She Wrote.Ē When Andy and Trish have their first (failed) attempt at making love, he has a series of unfortunate accidents with her condom stash. I wonít even try to explain the scene where Andy visits a sex information clinic for adolescents.

Comedies like this work only when they contain more than just gratuitous raunchiness. Consider Animal House, American Pie, Thereís Something About Mary, or Wedding Crashers. They all had outrageous moments, yet they also had identifiable characters and clever stories. On the other hand, a film like the execrable Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo fails miserably because it merely presents raunchiness for its own sake, without any quality reinforcements. The 40 Year-Old Virgin has moments that may make you blush, but at its heart is an undeniable sincerity. Andy is a likeable guy who certainly makes some beginnerís mistakes, yet his affections for Trish are very real. Over the course of the picture, he shows real emotion toward her and even helps deal with her rebellious teenage daughter. Because we can see that heís a good guy and not just a buffoon, itís okay to laugh at the predicaments Andy gets himself into.

The very first time I ever saw Steve Carell was in Bruce Almighty, where he played a pompous news anchor. Carell stole the movie during a scene in which he is made to speak jibberish on-air by Jim Carreyís divine powers. It was a perfect introduction to the actor because he was completely unfamiliar to me; since I didnít know he was a comedian, I didnít expect him to be so insanely funny. Thatís still one of the most hilarious movie scenes ever. Carell was also terrific in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, in which he played a dim-bulb weatherman. Itís nice to see the actor now get a starring role, especially one where he can show yet another side of his diverse talents. It would be easy to play Andy Stitzer as an uber-nerd, but Carell gives him a personality and, most importantly, real humanity. Andy is funnier for having those qualities.

The other cast members also elevate what could be stock characters. Andyís buddies are certainly boorish on the surface. They talk about women in demeaning ways and are completely preoccupied with all things sexual, yet that raging masculinity masks insecurity. David, for instance, canít stop pining for the true love who dumped him. Itís a fundamental truth that guys often have a bark much worse than their bite. We talk about things in a way that belies our inner feelings. The 40 Year-Old Virgin is full of insight into how men often talk outwardly about sex when inwardly they want love. Carell co-wrote the screenplay with director Judd Apatow, and together they have crafted a very wise comedy about the male mind.

The big comedy sensation of the summer (and of the year, in fact) has been Wedding Crashers. Both pictures mix hilarity with heart, and both are very, very funny. In all honesty though, I have to say that as much as I loved Wedding Crashers, I think The 40 Year-Old Virgin is even funnier. In fact, this is the funniest movie Iíve seen so far this year.

( 1/2 out of four)

The 40 Year-Old Virgin is rated R for pervasive sexual content, language and some drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 56 minutes.

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