In Defence of Comics, Toys, and High School Massacres.
I’m on a comedy kick lately, possibly because I hate myself. The only films being made nowadays that are finding any sort of success whatsoever are these R-rated “Frat Pack” monsters, all revolving around Will Ferrell and lazy journalists looking for a way to reuse old reviews of Sinatra/Martin movies and St. Elmo’s Fire by replacing a few key letters. These movies are specifically designed to make me feel miserable about myself, primarily because they’re made by, and marketed to, people who would have beat me up and stuffed me in a locker in high school if I didn’t look like I carried a knife. Regardless, I keep going to see the films, mostly on purpose, and therefore encouraging their production through the vote of my hard-earned dollar, increasing the self-loathing engendered by these movies ten-fold. You know how in late eighties movies, when the geek would suddenly, through either a bet or a double dare, be accepted into the cool kid group, and he would jump at the chance despite a first act filled with bitter jokes and complaining about cliques alongside his Dungeons and Dragons friends? That’s what I feel like when I pay for this crap, only I’m less likely to have a change of heart around minute 70 and embrace my nerdiness than I am to leave a duffel bag with a 20lb propane bomb in a high school cafeteria.
On that note, on to The 40 Year Old Virgin. This film is actually the best of the recent crop of badly improvised comedy, appearing at least to have a hint of a structure beneath the actors giggling at their own jokes. The story is set up by the title, which is emblematic of the frat boy humor I feared permeated the entire picture, ‘virgin’ being, of course, what you label a guy if you can’t call him gay and he still needs to be humiliated for not owning an Abercrombie and Fitch sleeveless shirt. And, of course, Hollywood shorthand for virgin is showing a character either on a bicycle or reading a comic book, visual cues that this movie has in spades. However, despite its reliance on standardized humor, this movies is surprisingly non-judgmental. The titular virgin is played endearingly by Steve Carell, the mentally deficient fellow from Anchorman. Apparently, they’ve let him out of the halfway house long enough to learn some longer words and star in a shockingly funny comedy. Good for him. I take back almost everything I said about sterilizing the retarded. Carell is forty, works in the stockroom of an electronics store, and collects action figures, which makes him cool in my book but anathema to the fairer sex, giving him roughly the same success with women one would have walking into a lesbian bar wearing a “Dead Girls Don't Say No” T-shirt. Through the intervention of his friends, played by Paul Rudd, Seth Rogan from Freaks and Geeks, and Romany Malco, Carell does his best to bed a lovely woman he’s met, played with great warmth by either Mimi Rogers or Catherine Keener, depending on how the light hits her.
Carell’s interplay with his love interest is what really causes the film to rise above its brain dead counterparts. Though the best jokes come from Carell and his buddies, the genuinely interesting romance between the two leads is what washes the beer and urine out of the couch from when Animal House visited, and brings back fond memories of the weekend The Wedding Singer spent up at the summer house. They work well together, though I am a little upset that an important plot point has Keener/Rogers helping Carell ‘grow up’ by selling his action figures. Any woman worth her salt recognizes that action figures, or ‘pre-assembled collector’s item model kits’, are not a relic from childhood, but rather an indication that a man has an eye for interior decorating, significant disposable income, and the mental acuity necessary to list the past and current rosters of the Justice League of American in chronological order, honorary members and Snapper Carr included. Hypothetically, an ideal woman would realize that these figures’ place is not on Ebay, but rather arranged according to height and weapon of choice on the bookshelf and, in the case of Mighty Kong, straddling a sub-woofer, bellowing his rage at the heavens above. And in case you’re getting any funny ideas at this point, I’ll have you know I carry a switchblade.