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By Kenny Herzog | December 7, 2005

The X-factor in “40-Year-Old Virgin”––what separates it from the rest of today’s ribald romantic comedies––is Judd Apatow. The man who gave us “Freaks and Geeks” and “Undeclared” is behind every aspect of the film: directing, producing and writing. His intuitive understanding of how to make something humorous and heartwarming, without feeling cartoonish or saccharine, is all over every frame. And if there are Y and Z factors, they would be leading man Steve Carell (who creates a much more layered and endearing protagonist than his labored, one-joke machine in “Anchorman”) and the rest of the supporting cast, in that order.

Another key to the movie’s success is that everything stems off a very simple plot line, allowing the characters and their budding relationships to form organically and take center stage. Andy (Carell) is 40, lives alone surrounded by toys and video games, rides a bicycle to his job as an electronics-store stock boy, watches “Survivor” with his elderly neighbors, and oh yeah, he’s never gotten laid. From there, his motley crew of coworkers (the perfectly cast trio of Paul Rudd, Seth Rogen and Romany Malco) try to get him laid, and he encounters single mom Trish (Catherine Kenner), his real shot at true love and meaningful sex.

In a different kind of movie, perhaps one directed by the Master of Irony himself Ben Stiller, Andy would have been a bumbling, Forrest Gump-level social putz, defined exclusively by his hobbies and hermetic lifestyle and utterly vulnerable to the endless taunting of his peers. But in Apatow’s movie, everyone has multiple dimensions: Andy is actually quite socially capable. His virgin status is more a conscious decision, one born from a vicious cycle of fear, rejection and some embarrassing sexual encounters (some of which are highlighted in a hilarious, and bloody, montage). He is not a social retard; he’s just intimidated by the opposite sex. He doesn’t allow himself to be condescended to, but does accept helpful criticism. And while his colleagues do take their share of jabs, it’s not in some teen-movie-bully kind of way. Their intentions to help are clearly genuine and good-natured, all a result of their own sexual- and relationship-maladies. Because, oh yeah, they’re adults, and Apatow never forgets that or allows anyone to become one-dimensional, lest risk the entire thing becoming too farcical.

Even in the most obscure moments, genre convention is circumvented. When Andy first meets Trish’s gothed-out teenage daughter, you expect the whole “She hates him for the whole movie until the last five minutes because of her own daddy issues” routine, but Apatow gets past that in their first five minutes together, because he knows how overdone a device it is, and that more often that not, it’s a bullshit copout for not giving the characters real depth

While it does takes more than an hour to get there, Apatow’s poise truly pays off once Trish seriously enters the picture and she and Andy’s romance takes off. Keener plays the vulnerable but open-hearted Trish both with and against type, showing an occasional knack for comedy but also bringing a feeling of real acting credibility to the role. Carell hold his own rather impressively, playing down the loveable geek persona and slowly and confidently allowing his real, very-much-worth-of-love self to emerge. Because like the toys he keeps collected in boxes around his apartment, Andy wants an excuse to break out of his mold and escape the claustrophobic parameters he’s created for himself. This metaphor is obviously no accident, as it’s rounded out by Trish owning a store that sells peoples’ junk on eBay, allowing her to help Andy unload his personal clutter and subsequently, his emotional baggage.

That’s not to say that Apatow, a longtime friend and collaborator of Stiller’s, doesn’t have one foot in the door of broad comedy. “Virgin” cuts across so many audience lines because it’s as graphic as it s good-natured, filled with unnecessary nudity, absurdist monologues from minor characters (Jane Lynch’s “f**k buddy” offerings to Andy might be the hands-down funniest scenes in the film), an inspired final sequence and a slew of impressive epithets and decidedly un-PC putdowns. Even Apatow’s wife, Leslie Mann (again, unlike Stiller’s wife, Christine Taylor), seems cast with a purpose, putting in a bravura cameo as the drunk-driving, one-night-stand-prospect from hell.

Some may argue that, at more than two hours (with the inclusion of 17 originally edited minutes in the Unrated DVD version) “Virgin” is a bit overlong, but given “Wedding Crashers” was nearly the same length, and we accept such running times for pompous bloated, dramas as a given, that many minutes of quality comedic filmmaking should be taken as a blessing.

Special Features

Apatow has never taken the packaging of his product lightly. Universal may not have given him the kind of control he had over Shout! Factory’s “Freaks” and “Undeclared” boxes, but as with last year’s ballyhooed “Anchorman” set (which Apatow produced), “Virgin” puts a nice amount of care in. Rare enough is the “Unrated” edition that offers more than an extra 20 seconds not included in the theatrical version, so on principle, points must be given for the legit extra material cut back in. Was it all necessary? Probably not. Most of it is extended, most likely improvised rants by supporting players like foul-mouthed Indian salesman Gerry Bednob, or little asides that admittedly throw off the rhythm of otherwise crisp comedic scenes. While often funny, a good chunk of this stuff could have slid into the gag reel or additional crop of deleted scenes also offered.

In addition to all this and the commentary tracks by Apatow (one with Rogen and the other with Carell…and any “Freaks” fan knows Apatow commentary can be worth the purchase alone), there’s the intriguing inclusion of “My Dinner With Stormy” (a nod of course to “My Dinner With Andre”), in which Rogen sits down with porn star Stormy Daniels (who had a cameo that was put back in the Unrated DVD) for an off-the-cuff and very funny conversation that unfortunately ends abruptly after only a couple of minutes. Hell, there’s even commentary on the somewhat notorious “You Know How I Know You’re Gay?” back-and-forths between Rudd and Rogen.

As if making memorable movies wasn’t enough, Apatow always understands to give audiences bang for their buck without manipulating their dollars.

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