The 40-Year-Old Virgin

Andy Stitzer is not dumb, unattractive, or even socially awkward, at least not especially. He has an unsexy fondness for collecting action figures and playing video games, but so do thousands of other relatively average men. Yet for some reason, Andy Stitzer is 40 years old and still a virgin.

“The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” apart from having a near-perfect title, is also a near-perfect sex comedy, made by smart people who understand that crassness itself is not funny, but that crassness with a dash of cleverness is.

It will also prove to be a career-making performance for Steve Carell, who started out on “The Daily Show,” nearly stole “Bruce Almighty” from Jim Carrey and “Anchorman” from Will Ferrell, did the impossible by making the American version of “The Office” nearly as good as the original, and is now being given a chance at leading-man stardom. He plays the titular greenhorn, a stock supervisor at a Circuit City-type store in Los Angeles, and almost everything out of his mouth is funny. Carell can underplay like nobody’s business, with an officious, inherently nerdy quality that makes him perfectly suited for a role like this.

Andy’s situation comes to light at a late-night poker game with his co-workers, gnarly-dude stockboy Cal (Seth Rogen), playa/cheata Jay (Romany Malco), and David (Paul Rudd), who has not gotten over being dumped two years ago and who loves and hates his ex-girlfriend with equal passion. They make fun of Andy for being a virgin, of course, but only briefly. Soon they are rallying around him, trying to get him into bed with someone before he becomes an old man. Andy doesn’t want the attention or the assistance, but what can you do? These co-workers, whom he has barely socialized with until now, are essentially his only friends.

The guys explore the various ways of hooking up, offering advice that would be offensive to me as a man if it weren’t for the fact that, shamefully, they represent the way most men really think. They try speed-dating, they take Andy to a bar and urge him to get a girl really drunk — they even arrange for an encounter with a hooker, but everything goes awry, and the deed is never done.

In a scene destined for fame, they urge Andy to get a makeover, which includes having his chest waxed. Carell demonstrates an admirable dedication to his comedy here: The waxing scenes are of his actual chest hair actually being yanked off, and his reactions are among the film’s most hysterical moments. (The things he yells at that poor beautician….)

While his buddies are trying to initiate him into manhood, Andy meets a woman named Trish (the always marvelous Catherine Keener) who runs a store across the street and who likes him. They date, and sex is almost achieved, but Trish wants to wait until they know each other better. Andy is relieved: He’s terrified to tell her it will be his first time.

Written by Carell and Judd Apatow and directed by Apatow, the film achieves greatness most obviously by being flat-out, fall-down, laugh-out-loud funny. All four of the leading men spout fantastic dialogue, frequently vulgar, often at least partially improvised, and always with an undercurrent of playfulness. Some scenes have Andy slipping out of the limelight so the other characters can spar with each other, as in the priceless bit where Cal and David play video games and take turns making up reasons why the other is gay. The film has a sense of community in that regard, that while it’s Carell’s starring vehicle, it’s a team effort.

But another success is in the film’s attitude, which is not as sexist and Neanderthal as you might expect. In fact, I kid you not, the movie makes a real case for chastity. Not only do Andy and Trish have a relationship that is not all about sex, but Andy’s horndog friends realize there is more to life than gettin’ it on, too, as they all encounter problems with their freewheeling lifestyles.

Finally, I want to point something out to Adam Sandler (who surely visits this Web site regularly): “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” is a prime example of how to let all your buddies be in your movie, yet still have it turn out well. Judd Apatow, director and co-writer of this film, produced “Anchorman,” which co-starred Carell and Rudd. It also featured David Koechner, who has a cameo here in the same scene as Nancy Walls, Koechner’s former “SNL” castmate and Carell’s wife; Koechner and Walls both earn laughs. Apatow’s wife, Leslie Mann, has a couple scenes, too, as a hilariously drunk woman Andy meets at a bar who insists on driving herself home; her inebriated monologue as she careens through traffic is one of the film’s highlights. Seth Rogan worked with Apatow on “Freaks and Geeks” and “Undeclared” and had a bit part in “Anchorman,” yet no one would suggest he’d gotten his part in “40-Year-Old Virgin” simply because he’s pals with Apatow.

In short, the movie is fun to watch, but it also seems like it was fun to make — not in the sense of a bunch of idiots mugging for cameras without direction, but in the sense that someone wrote a deceptively intelligent script full of sharp dialogue, called friends who knew how to treat such a script, and assembled a drop-dead funny sex comedy. So far, this is the one to beat for Funniest Movie of 2005.

A- (1 hr., 56 min.; R, abundant harsh profanity, some nudity, some strong sexuality, a lot of vulgar and sex-related dialogue.)