Sunday, May 20, 2007

The 40-Year-Old Virgin

The verdict: A great example of slap and tickle feel-good comedy with a smashing lead performance from Carell and a hugely funny ensemble supporting cast.

The rating: 7/10

'Car-crash comedy' has spread like wildfire on both sides of the Atlantic since the 90’s. This particular brand of comedy gets real glee out of placing the audience in awkward situations, to the point where the viewer is squirming in their seat, watching through their fingers perhaps, and bordering somewhere between horrified and disgusted at what’s going on on-screen. Borat is possibly a good recent example of this kind of comedy, where the audience is in on his joke, but still, how can he say the things he does, and keep a straight face? When good-hearted people genuinely try to respond to his insane questions, we as the audience are left groaning and laughing simultaneously, possible even hoping the hapless individual will discover the joke, but not before giving us a good laugh or two.

But this brand of comedy has been in the works for some years. Steve Coogan's Alan Partrdige character, Ricky Gervais' 'The Office', and more recently Larry David’s 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' and Mitchell and Webb's 'Peepshow' are all good examples of sit-coms, but with that total car-crash element. The Office in particular, featuring the groovy Slough middle-manager David Brent, put the audience through the grinder, by placing us right there in horrendously awkward situations with this man, this.. horror-show. As a result of this relentless pressure on the audience, our laughs are possibly more out of disbelief and shock, very much 'laughing at' as opposed to 'laughing with'.

Steve Carell donned the mantle of David Brent in the American version of The Office, and as far as UK and Irish audiences went, the decision was met with some derision. Even the idea of re-making the Office was seen as a bad one. In sniffy tones which would remind most Americans of their favourite anti-European stereotypes, we proclaimed that 'they wouldn’t get the humour' or possibly, 'no-one else could play Brent'. However, having seen some of the episodes of the American version, I have to say it's not that bad… Carell does stand out from the rest of the cast though, and he is the perfect choice for a tragically unhip man such as Brent.

Carell differs from someone like Will Ferrell, in that he brings a natural loser quality to his roles, not because of the way he acts, but more so from his general demeanour. Even when he smiles confidently, there is an apologetic, hang-dog quality to him. (See the poster for this movie above..) For a role like Brent, this quality is essential. In Little Miss Sunshine too, he found a role to play to his strengths, and he was one of the best things about that movie.

His natural pathos is also at work in 'The 40-Year-Old Virgin', and this is possibly to be expected, given that he plays the title role. However, this is a comedy of the dopey kind. Think the Farrelly Brothers on a good day (Me, Myself and Irene, There’s Something About Mary) and you have an idea of the sense of humour on display: juvenile, but playful and with a good heart to it. This is not the comedy of Epic Movie, or pratfalls in fatsuits, it just happens to be puerile, juvenile and a good source of belly-laughs.

Andy (Carell's character) inadvertently reveals his aforementioned status to his work colleagues, and they set about trying to get him laid as soon as possible. As you could exepct, their half-assed attempts (pardon the expression) only end up landing poor old Andy into a few dodgy scrapes. Meanwhile, Andy has actually met someone nice. Trish, played by Catherine Keener (who is always good value for money) works in the store opposite Andy, and seems to like his dorky ways. While his colleagues continue on their mission to get Andy laid, he starts dating Trish, but bizarrely they agree not to have sex until the 20th date, an arrangement that suits Andy down to the ground. The question is, when it comes down to getting down, will Andy have the chutzpah? Will he be able to tell Trish the truth before the main event?

Amid all the awkward situations and classic one-liners, the 40-Year-Old Virgin makes some decent points about the pervasiveness of sexuality in daily life. The chats between the four lads in Andy’s workplace in particular are priceless, with everyone telling massive porkie pies, but only Andy unable to maintain a realistic fa├žade. When these hormonally-motivated emotionally retarded imbeciles (standard blokes then – Ed) get involved in Andy’s private life, they unintentionally influence his decisions to stay faithful to Trish, and pursue something more than just 'putting the pussy on a pedastal', if you’ll pardon the expression... This invasion into his private life causes Andy a lot of distress, particularly when his boss discovers his vestial virgin status… (I won’t spoil it, but she has some brilliant moments in the movie.) But there's also a nice warm fuzzy message in there about taking risks in life, getting out of your comfort zone and going after stuff... you know, follow your dreams and all that.

So there are some great funny moments, and Carell is particularly good, but the support is all great, and the atmosphere of the movie is such that - like with Me, Myself and Irene or Anchorman - you get the feeling that the cast all enjoyed themselves making this movie. I’m aware that describing comedy as 'feelgood' can be a bit of a turn-off for some, but the schmaltz isn't overbearing in this one. For those that feel it gets a bit much towards the end, stay in your seats for the musical number in the closing credits, and you’ll see that the writers had their tongues firmly in their cheeks for the final scenes.

Incidentally, Steve Carell also wrote this one, and his career is really taking off since his time on 'The Daily Show'. He's next to be seen in the up-coming sequel to Bruce Almighty, Evan Almighty, as well as re-uniting with the other highlight of Litte Miss Sunshine, Alan Arkin, in a remake of Get Smart. (Hmm, not so sure about either of those really though – Ed).

The 40-Year-Old Virgin might be car-crash viewing at times, but there are plenty of puerile belly-laughs in there, and all in all, you could do a hell of a lot worse for a dvd night in. It gets two thumbs up from PCMR and a hearty recommendation.


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