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Directed by Judd Apatow, The 40-Year-Old-Virgin is not what is sounds like. Hiding behind a cable-movie title and insisting on trying to be a raucous sex comedy, it is a far more sensitive and deeply personal than one might expect. While it does have an a in-your-face adult sensibility to it, the core of the story is surprisingly tender, led by a remarkably in-tune performance by Steve Carrell. As the titular virgin, Carrell portrays Andy as a genuinely good person stuck in a moment that has caged him as an eternal adolescent in many ways. His home is a shrine to the distractions of a life not only void of sex, but companionship. Rows upon rows of unopened toys represent the repressed collector attitude he has created around his virginity. Carrell is careful never to make Andy a joke and we never once feel embarrassed for the path his life has taken. Good too are his friends who are also a collection, stereotypes that are refreshingly kind and good-natured as opposed to the often mean-spirited nature of modern films. A perfect complement to Carrell is Catherine Keener as Trish, the woman he falls for, an enchantingly welcome woman with an offer he can’t refuse. Solidly directed and full of warmth, The 40-Year-Old Virgin is a wonderful achievement, finding balance between brash openly-sexual comedy and authentic personal development.
When Andy goes on this first date with the fetching Trish, he’s decidedly nervous, the pressure of sex seemingly all around him. It’s not like he doesn’t want try to have a physical encounter with a woman, it’s just that because he’s never done it, and the idea of it has become near mythological, he is fearful of what to do. He doesn’t want to let Trish know he is a virgin, so when she makes a sudden request to try and hold off on the physical part of their new relationship until they get know each other better, he pounces on the chance to delay the inevitable. The number of dates required to pass before they can do it jumps from ten to fifteen to twenty and while she says it will be painful to go that long, he assures her it won’t. Skip ahead to 20 dates later and the moment has come. Some developments have occurred in their growing relationship, one being that he will sell his incredible collection of unopened toy action figures, which is worth a small fortune. She has motivated him to use the money to open his own electronic’s store. On the bed where they are kissing, many of these boxes are laid about waiting to be packaged and sent to their buyers. Trish reminds Andy that the day has come and becomes overwhelmed with physical passion, throwing herself at him, but he resists and she suddenly believes he doesn’t want to have sex with her. They fight about the situation, with him directing his frustration and fear of confessing his real issue by blaming her for making him sell his collection and ruining his life. While they clearly love each other, the argument escalates and she finally tells him to leave.
Andy is a complex character, attracted to women but unable to physically express himself with a partner as he has created a climate of fear and impossible expectation around the act. He’s managed to avoid any opportunities for sex most of his life after a series of very bad and embarrassing attempts at sex when he was much younger, but with Trish, there is no more running. The 20 Date rule was his escape, or at least a chance for reprieve from the pressure of sex and he’s used that time wisely. Trish has fallen in love with a man who is yes, admittedly odd, but hopelessly compassionate and kind. Now that they made it to the 20 Date mark, she is ready, and mistakenly thinking that he has been longing for this moment to come, too.
The setting of this moment is crucial and what works most importantly is the placement of the boxed toys strewn about the bed. These are the fixtures of Andy’s life, the very columns that hold up his identity. As they are to be sold, he is naturally weakened by their loss. As Trish heaves herself upon Andy, in hopes for him to bed her, their bodies literally shove the boxes out of the way, with Andy actually crushing one under his weight. The act of, or at least the machinations of a play toward sex have swept his childhood aside. As he is not ready to give he what she wants, he struggles to be free of her body while trying to rescue the toys that is a contest with no possible winner. He ends up trying to have both but then angrily channels his frustration at her, blaming her for the change in his life.
It’s a powerful moment as Trish desperately tries to find a way to make him love her and be her lover, even offering to dress herself like any of the figures in his collection. This plea is a revelation, a clear indication that she is in fact ready to give him her heart. Andy recognizes it but simply can’t overcome the burden of the pressure. This becomes the turning point for both, and leads him to ride away on his bike berating himself for his perceived stupidity. The effectiveness of the moment comes from the emotional investment the relationship has earned from the audience. We care about them both, the flawed but deeply idealistic Andy and the patient, endearing Trish. These feel like real people, with real connection and real issues. Part of us never wants to let go of our past and the comfort and warmth of the treasures of childhood. It is easy to identify with Andy, but like Trish, we know there is a time to put away the toys and engage in the more greater pearls of adulthood. Andy is getting there.
Judd Apatow, Steve Carell
Steve Carell, Catherine Keener, Paul Rudd