August 23, 2005

Slight spoilers for The 40 Year old Virgin below.

Sunday I saw The 40 Year Old Virgin. It was good overall, there were some spectacular moments, but on reflection, I find some of the nicer turns weren't in the jokes, but in the relationship arcs. For example, not having "my kids love you" be a reason for romance. The affair was kept between the grown ups - which was refreshing, usually you get the 'capture the attention of the lady - win the kids - really win the lady' storyline. It also portrayed a woman with an unconventional personal history without judgement or making her overly sympathetic by using abuse, or her sacrificing herself in nobless oblige as an explanation.

By far, the most amazing character was Catherine Keener's, simply because she was both a good mother, a woman with adult relationship desires, dead sexy, a successful* business woman -- and none were justified or at the expense of the other. She simply was. I'd say far and away the most feminist character I've seen on screen since Isabella Rosselini in Roger Dodger. That said, it was funny as well, but probably not as funny as you're imagining it will be. There were several chances the film's writers, Apatow and Carell, could have taken the easy or most worn path and no one would have blamed them (or likely noticed). Carell's character does make a cursory effort to become acquainted with the kids, but it's always clear he's Mommy's pal, not there to audition for the role of "new daddy."

Yes, most of the humor was juvenile, but there's an element of juvenalia inherent to a man who remains a virgin at age 40 and has a hobby of collecting toys. And it's fairly predictible that for him to claim his "manhood" he must first put away childish things.

That said, it was funny as well, but probably not as funny as you're imagining it will be. Paul Rudd and Carell make the most of an occasionally thin script with pitch perfect comic timing. Newcomers Romany Malco and Seth Rogen balance out the cast by being simultaneously the personifications of stereotypes and humanized comedic antiheroes.

While I spent more time laughing than not, it wasn't until I got home and really started putting my brain to it the relationships leapt out at me, which means you can go see the film with every intention of laughing and forgetting your woes and be totally successful. However, since most reviews highlight the joke quality and performances of Carell and Keener, it felt like something had to be said about the foundation of sheer humanity and sensitivity the "wacky" house is built on. As evidenced in "Anchorman" and Virgin, Apatow does what few film makers are willing to do the work of - create breathing, fully formed humans and put them in high comedy situations, packing in the laughs without insulting the characters or the audience.

*successful defined as sustaining a decent middle to upper middle class lifestyle, with no visible financial travails, not over the top Wall Street sucess, but a more plausible success.

Erik added:

Ebert didn't press the feminist angle, but was good on the humanity and sensitivity. I want to see this movie.

Seth Rogen is a relative newcomer, but was very funny in Freaks and Geeks, a TV show on which Apatow was a writer, director, and executive producer. Highly recommended.

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