Monday, August 22, 2005

The 40-Year-Old Virgin Scores a Home Run

By Evan Ferstenfeld

Like the pencil necks and asthmatic brainiacs of his critically trumpeted but financially junketed television series Freaks and Geeks, writer and director Judd Apatow's creations gravitate towards the overlooked, flawed and absurdly genuine fringes of society, while secretly aching to be accepted for who they are by the collagen-injected prom queen crowd. Most characters in your average dead-end sitcom feel as though a stage hand is pulling a string attached to each actor's back moments before another criminally underwhelming one-liner is delivered. Apatow's characters- from the early 90's backstage brilliance of The Larry Sanders Show to 2001's disgracefully ignored Undeclared - utter thoughts, jokes and feelings you could actually fathom a real-life Homo sapien conveying to you, with Apatow ramping up the gut busting content to internal trauma levels.

With The 40-Year-Old Virgin, his first feature-length directorial effort, Apatow has produced a mainstream burst of sheer comedic freedom, obliterating the line between high-brow comedy snobs and fans of Rob Schneider getting his schlong stuck in a toaster. By mixing the crass machismo of Andrew Dice Clay's wordplay, the indefinable coolness of Tarantino's characters minus the sarcastic eye-wink, and the essence of Kevin Smith's slacker cinema affections for all subjects hilariously monotonous and dork-related, Apatow has stumbled upon a fiendishly original and entertaining formula that finds a way to offend the sensibilities of each and every moviegoer, then swiftly hands them a box of chocolates and keeps them in stitches as their outrage is chuckled away.

Virgin co-writer Steve Carell (The Daily Show, Bruce Almighty, Anchorman) luckily gets a change of pace from playing an eternally eccentric newsperson as Andy Stitzer, an electronics clerk whose secret of having never meshed with female genitalia in his four decades of existence becomes the main discussion topic for his friends, his workplace and eventually the town. With a premise so ripe for excruciatingly juvenile Mad Magazine-type humor and Revenge of the Nerds rehashing, Apatow and his wacky band of accomplices manage to find the genuine heart and touchy-feely connections in each of their character's love for one another, a feat never given a millisecond's worth of thought in most modern funnyman cinema.

Performances equal parts funny and endearing abound in the two hours of razor-sharp inanity. Highlights include Steve Carell's tight-rope balancing act of lovable awkwardness that never strays too far into creepiness country, Seth Rogan's avalanche of insults as stoner Cal, an outstanding Paul Rudd as the surprisingly sensitive drunkard David, Romany Malco's admirable avoidance of all stereotypical pratfalls as the highly urbanized Jay, as well as dozens of other comedic well -wishers getting in their ha-has that include Catherine Keener, Elizabeth Banks, and A Mighty Wind's Jane Lynch.

Saying The 40-Year-Old Virgin was kind of funny is like suggesting a Richter scale-shattering earthquake was kind of rumbly. This film constantly unleashes a flurry of joke-filled bon-bons at once, forcing you to ingest jokes as fast as possible in order to prevent a clog up on the comedy conveyor-belt, I Love Lucy-style. And with all the testosterone-fueled, brutally honest chauvinistic insight being bandied about, Virgin somehow talks its way into cute and cuddly chick flick territory for its ultimate score. Apatow's expertly crafted 40-Year-Old Virgin thankfully raises the bar in dumb comedy to Stephen Hawking-smart levels.

Grade: A
Rating: R
Running Time: 116 Mins.

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Grace Potter Rocking The Gear circa 2006!