If there’s one movie within recent memory which seems to be heralded as encapsulating the plight of older male virgins, it’s this Judd Apatow movie from 2005. Not only was it Apatow’s directorial debut, it was also the first film that Steve Carrell starred in after joining “The Office” and co-starring in the first “Anchorman”. Ever since its debut, it’s the term used to describe older guys who are virgins. Younger men bring it up as something to avoid. Within the community of older male virgins online, it seems to represent the closest the mainstream comes to capturing or dramatizing their fate. At least that’s the impression of it that I always got.
Up until this weekend, I’d never seen the film. I was still in college when it debuted, and likely in denial about my own status. I was still in my early 20’s, I thought I’d crack that nut (pun intended) sooner or later. I may have just not been interested, period. But, fate and a late night run at my local Rite Aid brought me into contact with an extended edition of the DVD for about $7. Now I was older and fully aware of my own identity as an older male virgin, and finally curious enough about this movie to see it and judge it for myself. Going into the film, I was wondering if it would upset me unexpectedly as some movies occasionally can (such as the first “Back to the Future“). Having finally watched it, I will say that while I enjoyed it overall, it was quite an experience and I certainly had some issues with it.
In a way this post may be a bridge between this blog and the sorts of things I write elsewhere online. I have written many a movie review for some message board postings, and I do comic book related reviews for a website online (I found a new site after the closing of my old one a few weeks back). This will be the first review type post I do here, and it isn’t something I plan to make a habit in the future. However, I thought my thoughts on this would be an appropriate topic for the blog, as well as add something a little different from my usual flashbacks or whining.
In recapping the plot, I find it amazing how many comedic actors had cameos in this movie who would go on to star in their own flicks and/or TV shows later on. Carrell stars as “Andy”, a 40 year old stock manager who works at “SmartTech”, which is a knock off of chain electronics stores like Best Buy or RadioShack. He’s a socially awkward man who collects action figures and avidly plays video games, and is wound tight and barely sleeps. When word gets out that he’s a virgin, his collection of rowdy co-workers share their own views of sex and women with him in the aims of “getting him laid”. Andy goes on a series of misadventures until he runs a fellow middle aged person in Trish (Catherine Keener) who runs an eBay retail store who forms a genuine connection to him. Trish initially forbids sex until the 20th date for her own sake, and Andy spends the time getting closer to her and two of her kids (including a 16 year old played by Kat Dennings). There is a happy Hollywood ending, but it certainly comes after no end of raunchy skits and “edgy” humor.
Two of Andy’s co-workers are played by Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd, and while their characters have names, it’s more fun to just refer to them by the names of the masked vigilantes they’d play later on: Green Hornet and Ant-Man (respectively). Romany Malco’s “Jay” is arguably the most “cool” one of the lot, even if he does play into quite a few stereotypes about black guys. Jane Lynch also plays Andy’s oversexed and weird supervisor. Other notable comedians who had cameos here are Mindy Kaling as Ant-Man’s ex Amy, Kevin Hart as a ghetto stereotype customer, Jonah Hill as an eBay customer, and Elizabeth Banks and Leslie Mann playing two crazy women that Andy has misadventures with before things get settled with Trish.
Besides the cameos, it was weird seeing this because in many ways, it really is a movie which could only be made in 2005. “Survivor” is name dropped plenty of times as a new thing, and eBay is still this new and mysterious thing that some people need outlet stores for. But the biggest sign was a notable bit where Andy explains to Trish that VHS is “a dying format” and DVD was the future as he tries to sell her a DVD/VHS combo machine at SmartTech. The fact that Ant-Man still had VHS tapes (albeit of his porn collection) helps cement this as a movie which could only take place 11 years ago. It feels weird that it’s been that long ago, as if suddenly the presence of video tapes means this is a period piece now. For the record, while most of the American anime distribution companies abandoned VHS as a format in 2003, most major studios waited until roughly 2007-2008 to abandon the home video format completely after a reign of over 25 years.
There are some skits and segments which I did find a little outdated or disturbing. There are a lot of borderline racist segments involving two Middle Eastern characters played by Gerry Bednob and Shelley Malil which get old fast. There is fairly liberal use of the “N” word for a mainstream movie of the 21st century. Leslie Mann’s major scene involves a skit where surviving a ride with a dangerously drunken driver who gets into several accidents is seen as something which is supposed to be funny and not scary. Overall I was reminded of a DVD commentary that Mel Brooks did once where he said that too many recent comedies were just individual skits bridged together at a minimum by a plot, and don’t always work from within it, and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” certainly does qualify as that. It’s not as bad in that regard as some recent comedies (such as the “Scary Movie” line of films) but there was plenty which could have been cut and not effected the plot in any way. An extended bit includes Green Hornet and Ant-Man rattling off “How I know you’re gay” disses, which nowadays would seem very homophobic (much as the plot of “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” plays as pretty transphobic now). Naturally the main draw was Carrell’s portrayal of Andy and trying to make guys like him seem human while still having some fun with them (since it is a comedy).
I didn’t relate to every aspect of the movie (nor did I intend to), but some segments hit close to home or did draw on my fears. In the first act, Andy accidentally reveals his virginity when he’s pressured into going to a poker game with his coworkers by Green Hornet, Ant-Man and Jay and he’s trying to fit in with their stories revolving women and sexual conquests. I have long known the pressure of such things, which may be part of why I became more solitary. Most of my major friends know my secret and there’s an unspoken agreement to never bring it up or urge me for any details about my own love life. And even this is only about 6-7 people if I only count those who live in the same city as me. But I certainly have coworkers and they certainly do talk about similar things on occasion (especially since most are younger than me). As embarrassing as it is for such a secret to be blown (because Andy could not accurately describe what breasts felt like, because he never touched one), I must say a scene where Andy flees the store mid-shift because the guys had told EVERYONE there was pretty much something I’ve feared. It’s hardly my worst fear or the worst thing that I could imagine realistically happening to me, but it’s in the top 10. That’s one of many reasons why I am vague about a lot in this blog. Andy’s explanation of of his virginity as, “It just never happened,” was also pretty good I felt, even if his circumstances were different. Unlike me or a lot of older virgins, technically Andy did have some opportunities (and had at least kissed someone once); just for comedic effect all of the girls he encountered in his youth were scary (i.e. a girl with large braces talking about blowing him). One bit where Andy’s pals trick him into going to a speed dating event I could relate to, since I’d gone to approximately four of them over the last six years. Even the reasons were similar – the belief that one could cram years worth of missed opportunity into a couple of hours.
While there is a lot of fun made of Andy’s plight (i.e. his inability to put on a condom, his refusal to even masturbate), the film is also fairly brutal of mocking his jerky co-workers who are supposedly experts in the field of women and showcasing that their “experience” hasn’t exactly made them any happier or wiser despite how they may act. Jay has a steady girlfriend who he mercilessly cheats on, until she catches him in the act and he discovers she’s pregnant; Jay then breaks down into a sobbing mess about being insecure despite his bravado. On the surface Ant-Man seems like he’s the closest to understanding Andy since he talks a lot about feelings, love, and connections, until more is revealed about him. He’s been broken up about a girl he dated for four months for two years, to the point of obsessive stalking or bad mouthing her once he talks about her for longer than few seconds. Ant-Man also has a giant box of porn which he “donates” to Andy. I found chunks of Ant-Man’s focus disturbing if only because he was closer to the mark of how many guys seem to be; obsessive, focused on porn, and with endless axes to grind over their ex’s, even if they only dated them for four months. Green Hornet arguably comes off as the wisest, even if he’s essentially a pot-headed wanna be writer, and his advice is less about swagger (like Jay) or feelings (like Ant-Man) and more about “talking to women” without really talking to them. Andy trying Green Hornet’s “answer every question with a question” advice works exactly once. Arguably the best thing Andy’s pals do is set up the opportunity to talk to Trish. Because he already bikes and exercises, Andy didn’t have to go through the “everything will work out so long as you LIFT, BRAH” wing of advice that many older virgins get.
To a degree the hardest thing to relate to about Andy for me was that he actually did get plenty of opportunities; he just either botched them or they were with comedic-effect freaky women. That’s always been one of my pet peeves with Hollywood; in TV and films, women will just TALK to the lead shy hero, and in real life that doesn’t happen regardless of the setting. The few times it did for me, it was the “She Likes You Game” and I was being teased.
It is worth a mention that in the flick itself, most of the negative opinions of Andy’s virginity come from either himself or other men. Most of the women who find him dorky or weird don’t detect that it’s from his virginity. At one point Andy reveals his virginity to a health clinic that he takes Trish’s daughter to and that revelation has no effect on her opinion of him (she finds it weirder that he knows magic). Jane Lynch’s character offers to become Andy’s “friend with benefits” after it’s revealed. And Trish ultimately accepts it because it beats the alternative theory of why she thought Andy was weird (thinking he was a pervert or serial killer). I’ve heard a lot of similar sentiment from people online and off, that it supposedly isn’t as big a deal as I make it. I contend that anyone who said that never had to deal with it. Even the movie claims it’s no big deal because it’s less bad than the alternative (thinking someone is a serial killer). I did at least appreciate that the movie chose to make Andy’s “ideal mate” someone who was actually a little older than him.
So, my conclusion? The movie did go through a lot of experiences that I did or feared doing. Some of the “advice” that it offers the hero is spot on (especially the “you need to practice on drunken women you don’t care about before risking sex with someone you do like” line). Yet I am aware that it is Hollywood and a comedy to boot, so I don’t take it like the gospel truth or a documentary. Besides, Andy isn’t even the oldest virgin in comedic pop culture; Principal Seymour Skinner from “The Simpsons” was still a virgin at 44. Although much like Andy, that didn’t last long when he met someone oversexed who liked him.
I can relate to the giant lead weight that my virginity feels like. I would like to just get it over with, move on, and be closer to a normal man and not a circus freak. There is genuinely no way to positively reveal it to someone without seeming like a vulnerable loser, and I could relate to Andy’s angst about that. I didn’t care for the fairly blunt metaphor with the toys and video games, i.e. that his hobbies were just a sign of immaturity that Andy should sell and be rid of when he “grows up” and “becomes a man”. But, it’s just a movie from 2000-frigging-5, so what’re you going to do. It was good to finally see what all the fuss was about. It would be nice to finally lose my virginity, but I have other things to worry about. Sadly, every year that goes on I become closer to living up to this title, and unlike in the world of Hollywood and mass media consumption, nobody finds such a story endearing or charming. They just see a guy who can’t get any.