Rates: * * * 1/2
Why Did I Watch It? Somehow, I’d never seen this.
Nice guy Andy lives a simple life. He has his daily routine, his figurine collection, and a job working in the stock room at a local electronics store. He’s also never had sex, and is a bit lonely. When his workmates get wind of this, they determine to help him: by pushing him towards every woman that crosses his path. But he has a different idea; his eye has been caught by the equally nice woman who runs the secondhand shop across the road.
Writer/director Judd Apatow made the leap from TV to film with this hugely successful, and sporadically funny, bro rom-com. And it remains his best feature. Here he manages to strike a balance that would elude him subsequently; Apatow’s movies are always populated with boy-men, people with adult bodies and infantile minds. In this one, they are a likeable bunch of goofballs. Andy’s friends genuinely want to help him, even if they don’t know how, and a lot of their banter is funny. In his next film, the execrable ‘Knocked Up’, Apatow tried the same set up but with a cranked up gross out factor, and so turned the characters into a bunch of insufferable jerks. And his later films are mostly about how hard it is to be a rich white millionaire.
The 40 Year Old virgin is sweet by comparison. Steve Carrell, in a breakout role, is perfectly cast as a likeable dork, who fate has kept from physical intimacy. His earnestness is endearing, and I also liked that his naivety did not make him dysfunctional; when he finally tries going out, and having drinks, and talking to girls, he is actually not terrible at any of it. He has just been a bit shy, but people warm up to him when he allows them to. My favourite joke in the movie is also his: a mind bogglingly detailed explanation of how he made an egg salad sandwich, and then realised he didn’t have any bread.
The cast is stacked, another Apatow trademark, and uniformly strong. The standout from the boy’s club is Paul Rudd, as a wannabe player who can’t get over his ex (Mindy Kaling, in a hilarious one scene cameo). Catherine Keener plays Andy’s love interest, and I was less sure about her performance. While she is a wonderful actress, I felt that she was miscast, and maybe even a little wasted; she is best at playing sardonically fierce and iconoclastic women, here she is simply the average girl next door. Her attraction to Andy is also not really explained; that they are both ‘nice’ is not really enough. It is clear that the script is much less interested in this character.
And Jesus Christ: Apatow has never been able to make a film with an appropriate run time. While this is mostly fun and quite charming: two hours? They used to make these films by the truckload in the 80s and 90s, and none of them went for longer than ninety minutes. The extra half hour just repeats everything you have already seen: more bro jokes, more dating disasters, more of Andy almost fessing up to his GF and then chickening out. The extreme length took a little of the lustre off.
But, you know, a pretty fun mainstream comedy outing.