The Netflix Report

Movie reviews from my Netflix queue. Highly personal and opinionated!

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Monday, April 17, 2006

The 40 Year Old Virgin

Look, do me a favor. If you loved “Something About Mary” and “Anchorman” and “Old School” please don’t read this review. Move on to the next. We aren’t going to agree on this movie either and it’s just going to frustrate you.

Let’s see... plot summary: The movie is about a 40 year old virgin. So much for the pitch to the studio heads.

It stars Steve Carell, who plays his character like a guy in a permanent Vicodin haze. At age 40, he finally meets Catherine Keener, whom he takes a shine to. But he can’t bring himself to even call her for a date, behaving like an awkward teenager before his first high school dance. Sex isn’t the issue here... It’s just “Revenge of the Nerds” for a slightly older demographic.

As a matter of fact, the entire movie is an uncomfortably age-shifted version of writer-director Judd Apatow’s TV work on “Undeclared” and “Freaks and Geeks.” How do the uncool kids cope in an environment where everyone else seems to be more “with it” (and frankly, more interesting)?

Carell’s man-boy keeps his apartment filled with collectible action figures carefully sealed in their original packaging. He carefully tucks his pants cuff into his sock before getting on his bicycle to ride to work. He has no understanding of even the basics of what “talking dirty” means or what a woman’s breasts look like (this is how his coworkers discover the shocking fact of his virginity, which is immediately trumpeted around the display floor of the electronics retailer he works for, with grown adults standing on furniture and yelling insults across the room). The entire movie is written with this high school version of social interaction.

Catherine Keener has done some great work. I fell in love with her in “Being John Malkovich.” This is the movie where I fell out of love with her. Her character moves between flighty Annie Hall knockoff, gentle caring mothering type, and caustic profanity spewing bitch (there is a gratuitous bit where she supposedly tells off a telemarketer in a long harangue that simply seems jarring and unnatural for the image they have built for her). I think Keener had no idea what she was supposed to do with the role, and Apatow wasn’t the one to clarify anything.

There are a couple of funny bits in the movie. There are many more in the extra scenes in the bonus features on the DVD. The actors were obviously given the opportunity to ad lib and improvise bits of dialog, and much of this work is tremendously inventive and humorous. But not much of that is left to shine through in the by-the-numbers approach to the film’s construction. You can count down the story arc milestones right along with the committee that approved its development while you identify each of the set piece blackout scenes that scream “insert outrageous comic bit here” as they arrive and depart, divorced from the rest of the film.

So we see Carell walking to the bathroom with a huge erection under his boxer shorts. We see him accidentally urinating up onto his chest and face from his erection while he sits on the can (unbelievably, these are two SEPARATE scenes!). We see him watching a nubile, gorgeous young blonde strip down, beg him for sex, and then masturbate in the bathtub all while he maintains a Buster Keaton sleepy stoneface while showing zero reaction to what’s going on in front of him. We see him desperately trying to figure out the operation of a condom, attempting to blow it up like a balloon, put it over his testicles, tie it in strange shapes and do everything else possible to prove himself a mental defective. We see him fumbling with a doctor’s model of the female reproductive organs, unable to reassemble the pieces and inexplicably having it end up later in his apartment (for those who have seen the film, I dare you to construct a logical way this could have happened, given the circumstances). Nothing EVER makes sense, since he is not supposed to be an idiot – which would be the only possible explanation for his behaviors in the comedy bits.

Ugh. This is a desperate movie, created in the worst modern traditions of Hollywood cookie cutter manufacturing. I don’t begrudge high school kids from enjoying it, but the fact that it was one of the higher grossing films of 2005 and lauded by critics and adult public alike makes me weep for America and the state of the industry.

Oh yeah... Parents’ notes. I think you can tell from the descriptions above that this is not a film for the kiddies. Female (and male) breasts, lots of sex talk, sexual scenarios, etc. Swearing as a substitute for comedic writing. One scene of comic violence (You forgot, didn’t you? The bloody nose in the flashback... Remember? Aha!)

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