City Paper is not for tourists
Before you say you don’t like toilet humor, wait ’til you see a guy pee on his own face. The 40 Year-Old Virgin is both as stupid as and more brilliant than you might expect, with that gag as a prime example: Yes, it’s crude, but after half a movie’s worth of surprisingly sharp humor, a little dumbassery goes a long way.
The 40 Year-Old Virgin was co-written by former Daily Show correspondent Steve Carell, who stars as Andy Stitzer, the unlaid schmo of the title. Armed with helmet and hand signals, Andy rides a bicycle to his job at an electronics store, where he trades “How was your weekend?” chitchat with a co-worker. Andy made egg salad (and shopped for its “accoutrements”); his fellow employee went to Tijuana to watch a woman fuck a horse (“not as awesome as it sounds”). Excepting the elderly neighbors he watches Survivor with, Andy is friendless, though he insists he has “a very fulfilling life”—which includes playing the tuba around his apartment, painting tiny figurines, and singing karaoke to his empty living room.
Andy’s sorry existence gets a boost, however, when the guys from work need another player for their poker game. Reluctantly, David (Paul Rudd), Cal (Seth Rogen), and Jay (Romany Malco) ask Andy to join them. When he cleans up, they gain some respect for him. Or at least until he contributes to their locker-room talk with an enthusiastic but vague story about his freakiest girlfriend—“And I’d be nailin’ her, and she’d be like, ‘Oh, you’re nailin’ me!’”—and they discover that dude’s never actually gotten any. Anyone who’s ever seen a teen comedy knows what comes next: The guys resolve to hook Andy up ASAP.
Carell and director/co-writer Judd Apatow, contributor to the revered but quickly canceled television series Freaks and Geeks and creator of the similarly praised but ditched Undeclared, wisely chose to make Andy an accidental outcast rather than a flat-out loser. Andy knows exactly how to “be like David Caruso in Jade,” as Cal advises him regarding approaching women, and he’s not desperate enough to accept the cringe-inducing advances of his butchy boss, Paula (Jane Lynch). He’s genial and quick, and so what if he’s decided to ditch dating in favor of getting to bed early and “having more video games than a teenage Asian kid”?
Despite Andy’s merrily dorky lifestyle, Carell mostly plays it straight here, as he does in his latest steady gig, the American version of The Office. It’s actually the rest of the characters who induce the most guffaws: With the exception of a sorta-sickening drunk-driving scene, The 40 Year-Old Virgin is packed with so much sarcasm and deadpan that even bit players get to toss off a one-liner before their minute of screen time is up. Rudd, Rogen, and Malco are perfect as Andy’s hopelessly adolescent buddies, whether their characters are venting about work (a running gag about a Michael McDonald video is kicked off with David bitching, “If I hear ‘Yah Mo B There’ one more time, I’m going to yah mo burn this place to the ground”), criticizing Andy’s toy collection (“Is that the Six Million Dollar Man’s boss?”), or ripping into each other (a series of exchanged “Know how I know you’re gay?”s between David and Cal is a highlight).
Apatow and Carell even pull off a couple of minor miracles: (1) a chest-waxing scene that’s actually funny and (2) a love story that’s sweet without ruining all the joyful juvenility that came before it, with Catherine Keener playing Andy’s eventual girlfriend, Trish. Of course, it’s predictable that with Trish, Andy fails to heed any of his friends’ advice. Also predictably, it turns out for the best. Here’s the unconventional part: In the end, sex isn’t so transformative—a lesson the film sells with surprising understatement. Andy is a well-adjusted adult who becomes, well, a better-adjusted adult. After all, even a middle-aged virgin knows that a few steps must be missing from this description of “planting seeds” before making the big move: “Now you wait for it to grow into a plant. And then you fuck the plant.”
Valiant, the first fully computer-animated feature from Britain, is also about an underdog surrounded by a comic-relief crew. Unfortunately for the kiddies, this story about a pint-sized pigeon is less a fable about believing in yourself—or about, er, the heroic potential of animals, which the epilogue touts—than a propaganda piece about serving your country. Apparently the filmmakers overestimated the number of filmgoing, World War II– obsessed 5-years-olds in the world. There certainly can’t be that many in Multiplexland.
Valiant is set in 1944, when the title character (voiced by Ewan McGregor) decides to fly off to London to join the Royal Homing Pigeon Service. There he meets Bugsy (the original Office’s Ricky Gervais), an unbathed street swindler who impulsively joins the service in order to get out of some trouble. The two are sent off to train with the sorry Squad F, led by Gutsy (Hugh Laurie). Before they’re even finished with boot camp, though, the squad is sent off to Germany due to a loss of troops to German falcons. Meanwhile, a pigeon POW named Mercury (John Cleese) is being held by the evil General Von Talon (Tim Curry), who tries to make his captive, um, sing (yes, the script uses this groaner, too) by feeding him truth serum and playing yodeling records.
It’s the latter situation that yields Valiant’s only laugh, and it’s a weak one at that: “I’m a vegetarian,” Von Talon tells Mercury. “And yet you wear a leather cape!” the prisoner responds. With a script (by Jordan Katz, George Webster, and George Melrod, none of whom have previous credited experience writing for children) that otherwise contains only the lamest of humor—“I may not be conscientious, but I object!”—first-time director Gary Chapman falls back on the old reliable, loading Valiant with shots of the decidedly uncuddly birds smacking into walls, floors, doors, or each other. Oh, and Bugsy belches and passes gas a lot. Needless to say, the film’s stellar vocal talent—which also includes John Hurt and Jim Broadbent—seems rather wasted.
Valiant’s sunniness and willingness to help out his friends may be sufficient to keep a few non-warmongering kids involved for the film’s blessedly brief 76 minutes. Whether they’ll warm up to the beaked protagonists is another thing: The animation—courtesy of the Ealing Studios– ensconced Vanguard Animation—may be Pixar-precise, with each bird’s feathers intricately detailed and most backgrounds sufficiently lifelike (though the black water of the North Atlantic tends to look like undulating Hefty bags). But these are pigeons, for crying out loud, and chances are their bald-looking heads, buglike eyes, and bulbous chests won’t make anyone pine for a plush version. And even though the story is amiable enough—except, perhaps, for that cryptofascist we-didn’t-start-this-war-but-it’s-our-duty-to-help part—it’s punishingly dull for grown-ups. Unlike its hero, Valiant is a long shot that doesn’t quite succeed. CP