Though I heard nothing but good things about this film, I only finally went to see it when my old friend Rob caught it – the day after his own fortieth birthday, in fact – and told me that the main character struck him as a combination of both of our own personalities. I'm not a 40-year-old virgin, but I was a 20-year-old virgin, so I felt encouraged by the news that this film tackles one of the most embarrassing situations a grown man can find himself in, and does it with sympathy and dignity. Yes, even amongst a passel of jokes involving erections, bodily fluids, and sexual deviants.
Now that I've seen the picture myself, I will say that I too was surprised at the sweet story that slowly emerges from the high concept (dorky 40-year-old virgin Andy, played by cowriter Steve Carell, reveals his secret to his macho coworkers, who then insist upon getting him laid). This isn't a movie about a horny nerd desperate to lose his virginity; it's about a thoughtful adult who has grown so accustomed to his own celibacy that he'd rather continue his own monkish existence than brave the waters. So actually, The 40-Year-Old Virgin is less about sex and more about fear of change.
Apatow and Carell deserve credit for not looking down upon their clueless protagonist. Most of the movie's likability, in fact, comes from Carell's performance. Somewhat like his character, the 42-year-old actor is arriving rather late to screen stardom, and as a result, he brings wisdom and maturity to a part that a more established star, relying on time-tested shtick, would have bungled. Instead of just tripping over himself whenever a pretty girl walks by, his middle-aged virgin is by turns defensive, game, frustrated, angry, and scared.
Carell's work is balanced by an equally well-shaded turn by Catherine Keener as the woman Andy finally, reluctantly, decides to pursue. In fact most of the supporting cast is great, especially Apatow's crony Seth Rogen as Andy's dudelike colleague. The only sour note is hit – repeatedly – by the normally charming Paul Rudd, playing their pathetically lovesick buddy. In a film filled with rich characters, his is surprisingly poorly-conceived. Not only that, but nearly all of his jokes fall flat, and he ultimately becomes an unwelcome presence.
As with all comedies, there are misses as well as hits: several of the minor characters are cliched, and a couple comic sequences fizzle. But they're minor complaints; this is Carell's vehicle, and he does a phenomenal job. I found The 40-Year-Old Virgin thoroughly entertaining and quite funny, with a lot of real insight into human relationships.