I am writing a piece about Judd Apatow. I am watching major Apatovian releases that I either (a) saw too long ago to remember, or (b) haven’t yet seen.
This is the story of my descent into madness.
The 40-Year-Old Virgin begins with what, I submit to you, is the perfect Apatovian tableau: a grown man, surrounded by toys. He has movie posters! He has action figures! He has exercise equipment, and instruments, and all sorts of crazy business! He also has a boner, and lacks a vagina to put it in and hence prove his masculinity, and this is the crucial obstacle he must, in this timeless cinematic triumph, overcome.
Fucking makes the man: Andy has a number of male co-workers, including Seth Rogen (sporting a truly pubic-looking beard) who have all accomplished the quintessentially manly act of fucking. We are shown this by the way they swoop in on and battle over customers who have made the vast mistake of having lady bits, and relish anecdotes about the various nameless women who have pleasured their man-parts in ways that maybe a seventh-grader would think were hot or shocking or even vaguely plausible (the ladies’ pleasure is never really addressed: it’s about what they’re willing to do for the dudes, never what they actually like) and/or the donkey shows they were shocked to find depressing. (An economically marginalized sex worker performing an extremely painful and humiliating act for no-doubt-low pay in front of a bunch of privileged white boys? WHO KNEW THIS COULD BE OTHER THAN HOT.)
Andy is far less normal or cool than these dudes, as we are shown by the fact that they believe him to be “a serial killer.” The only dude who is even close to being as universally looked-down-upon as Andy is Dave, played by Paul Rudd, who had a girlfriend he really liked and misses her. I mean: liking a girl? Like, the way you would like a person? Icky. Fortunately, he’s also stalking her and makes kind of a point of calling her a “bitch” and a “whore” on a regular basis, so it is not as if he is a pussy.
(Note: this girlfriend is played by Mindy Kaling. She is severely underutilized – there are, like, three seconds of her in the movie, all amazing – and this, in and of itself, is a crime against humanity.)
Anyway, these dudes are large of heart and spirit and (so they would like to convey) of wang, and are willing to help Andy become a man through the enjoyment of numerous vaginas, or “bitches,” as they are also known. They do this through such commendable and not-at-all-date-rape-training-exercise-like acts as taking him to bars to find drunk women. I must convey to you that it is imperative for these women to be very drunk. The word “drunk” is repeated, in the early seduction-training sequences, often enough to stop being mildly annoying and become truly fucking sinister. It is repeated, friends, in lines such as these:
“Remember, it’s more important that she’s drunk than that she’s hot.”
“When you pick up a drunk woman who’s falling down on the way out of the bar, you should probably drive.”
Ha ha, what an awesome practical tip! For targeting girls to fuck who are drunk past the point of fun and to the point of being vulnerable and/or incapacitated. Which you should do.
These early scenes contain numerous bits of useful information, such as: the existence of a trans woman, who is (as in every Hollywood comedy ever since the beginning of time) a sex worker, is at once disgusting and hilarious. Asian women will smile and giggle and behave subserviently when you scream at them. Black people speak in a wacky manner that differs from the speech of white people, and should a white person attempt the distinctive wacky speech of black people, this will be comical in the extreme. Black people also speak very loudly in response to movies; black women are quite sassy, and black men proud of their large penises. Women who are your employers are hard-asses who probably just want to get laid, and one can say “fuck you” to their faces while remaining employed. “Gay” is an insult, which is useful if one wants to convey one’s distaste of Coldplay. The 40-Year-Old Virgin is full of life lessons for you, Viewer.
But, surprise! We are not supposed to like these guys or to take them seriously! This has been explained to me numerous times by advocates for The 40-Year-Old Virgin; we are made to dislike them by a delicate strategy on the part of the director, which consists of giving them loving, personal attention, and letting us learn about their hopes and dreams, and making sure that they never face any negative consequences for their actions. Fun Fact: most of the people who tell me that we are not supposed to like these guys also specify the scenes of these guys talking as the funniest and most appealing parts of the movie. Here was my favorite scene, for the record, and it takes place between Steve Carrell (Andy) and Seth Rogen (Cal):
ANDY: What if she laughs at me?
CAL: If she laughs at you, punch her in the head.
ANDY: I’m not going to punch her in the head. She’s really sweet.
CAL: No, I mean, punch her in the head emotionally.
I can only hope that this is one of the many scenes that Seth Rogen is reputed to have improvised for the movie. Its quality is so unrehearsed! Its performances, so buoyant! Its endorsement of abuse, so clear!
However, Andy must grow past the adorable and fun and carefree lady-punching society of his friends. He must undergo the quintessential rite of passage for all Apatovian males: finding some ridiculously tolerant mommy-lady to make him grow up.
Steve Carrell, as an actor, is capable of tremendous sweetness. Catherine Keener can do pretty much anything, including bringing the dead back to life like Superman by reversing the orbit of the planet. When her power is combined with that of Steve Carrell, an amazing thing happens: the movie almost stops sucking. You are so captivated by how wonderful they are that you do not notice what is going on, which is: he behaves like a freak, she seems not to notice, she is framed as a motherly type who is willing to delay sex for a ridiculously long time so you know she’s not a slut or anything, and then they have seven thousand separate conversations about how he needs to “grow up” and sell all of his toys or at least take them out of their boxes so that he can Be a Man, but Steve Carell, in these seven thousand conversations, talks about how important it is to keep his toys and did you know you should never take your action figures out of the box? It damages their value. Andy really, really needs to keep his action figures “safe” and untouched, you guys.
PS: THE ACTION FIGURES ARE A METAPHOR. FOR HIS DICK.
Perhaps the defining scene of “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” comes when Steve Carrell and Catherine Keener break up very briefly, and he goes home with a very attractive lady for hook-up purposes. After they go home for hook-up purposes, she acts as if she is looking forward to sex, which of course weirds Steve Carell out because he doesn’t want some vile sex-liking lady to unbox and touch his action figure, and this is all neatly resolved when Andy’s sex-having man-friends literally break into this girl’s house and have a very loud conversation while gazing at her naked self, which she does not notice. They are worried for him, you see, because this girl is very scary and a pervert slut. Here is a sample of their conversation:
CAL: That girl is a freak.
ANDY: You think so? (Nods to woman engaged in perverted sex act just off screen.) …That woman scares the shit out of me, and I want to go home.
The freaky, perverted, terrifying sex act in which this woman is engaged is: masturbating.
Seriously. She is masturbating. With a detachable shower head. It terrifies them all.
Then, once most of them flee the home of the monstrous Woman Who Is Capable of Touching Her Own Privates, Cal (Seth Rogen!) stays behind, and wanders into the bathroom where she is masturbating, and is basically like, “hi, I am in your apartment now without your permission, how about you pleasure me, since you are a whore.” The scene cuts abruptly, and given the fact that we do not see her scream and/or call the police and/or press charges and/or beat him to death with the showerhead, we are pretty clearly meant to presume that a woman capable of such harlotry as masturbating in front of a hook-up who has just asked her what she likes sexually (shit, didn’t you ever see “Mr. Wizard?” That’s a scientific demonstration) will consent to fuck any penis in the world, even if it comes attached to a home invader who is, more or less, sexually assaulting her.
This isn’t some raunchy, uninhibited, too-crude-for-prudes sex comedy. This is a comedy for and about people who are terrified of sex, who don’t seem to have any real, useful sexual experience outside of what they’ve gathered from their boxes of very boring porn, who are basically so entirely clueless about fucking that they fail to realize that female sexual desire is not some repugnant mutation or mark of the Devil. Steve Carrell and Catherine Keener don’t even screw until after they get married. Sex is just that dangerous and bad.
Which brings us to the central lesson I gleaned from the movie: a man may fuck, and fuck, and stay a virgin.