Back when Steve Carell was still mostly known for being that odd news guy in both Bruce Almighty and Anchorman, he finally got his first lead comedy role in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, a film which, on paper, may not have sounded all that exciting but, in Judd Apatow's reliable hands, did very well indeed.
The film's premise is exactly what the title suggests as Carell plays Andy, a 40-year-old virgin we first meet one morning as he absently parades his morning boner while he gets ready for work. This sets most of the tone for the rest of the movie. We soon meet Andy's co-workers, incidentally an all-star cast packed with Apatow regulars from Seth Rogen to Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann. Even Jonah Hill gets a cameo appearance. When Andy's "friends" figure out his big secret, this kick-starts their imaginations as they each decide to get him laid and impart their silly wisdom about sex upon him. Whether they're doing all this just to see Andy make a fool of himself is unclear at first but between Jane Lynch's bizarre f***-buddy offers, Rogen's useful "just ask questions" advice and Rudd's impressive porn offering, they eventually prove themselves to be valid, if messed-up buddies.
Catherine Keener plays Andy's love interest Trish and brings some welcome sanity (and shameless product placement) to the proceedings. The film is funny and definitely hits more than it misses in the jokes department, all the while keeping its characters likeable, something which Knocked-Up could have looked into replicating. Carell plays Andy with enough innocence and vulnerability that he doesn't come off as just a caricature, even when the film tonally shifts to more gratuitously gross-out shenanigans. That said, the humour and the tone do switch A LOT and the improvised jokiness often makes the sweeter, more heartfelt moments not feel quite as genuine as they should. Really, you feel like these guys just wanted to have some unlimited mindless, mostly dirty fun with the flick but had to force themselves every so often to throw in a romantic or cute moment just in order to not seem too juvenile. Much like This Is The End, this one ends in song leaving you with more of a question mark than a smile on your face but still, on the whole, The 40-year-Old Virgin gets it right.
While it's not a shock that the film didn't knock Citizen Kane off the top spot in most best movies lists, this goofy comedy did exactly what it set out to do: show off Steve Carell as a worthy, versatile A-lister to look out for and provide laughs and harmless random fun in bundles.
Worth a look.