The 40-Year-Old Virgin Is A Surprisingly Sweet Exploration Of Supportive Male Friendship
The 40-Year-Old Virgin is a movie practically bursting at the seams with crude jokes, and the sort of scenes you would never dream of watching with your family.
In the same vein of many a mid-2000s comedy, the film is unabashedly explicit, bawdy and funny in that gleeful way that had many of us exclaiming, ‘Do you remember that bit?’ for many years after its 2005 release.
Because, as the title would suggest, The 40-Year-Old Virgin is mostly about sex, with all its messiness, awkwardness and parts where you wonder what the hell you’re even doing with that thing, or whether you’re doing that bit right.
And yet there is much more to Andy’s earnest quest to lose his V-card than meets the eye. Wax away the chest hairs of lewdness and there’s a sensitive, and rather sweet, heart to this story of love and – most importantly – friendship.
When we first meet our hero, Andy (Steve Carell) is brimming with shame and secrecy, unable to navigate social situations with the ease of his more confident colleagues, David (Paul Rudd), Cal (Seth Rogen) and Jay (Romany Malco).
Andy’s story begins after he is invited into the group for a poker match as a means of making up numbers. He’s initially an outsider, racked with anxiety and putting on a paper-thin front that doesn’t fool his new pals for long.
A raucous discussion of sexual escapades inevitably leaves Andy way out of his depth, grasping wildly at descriptions of ‘bags of sand’ and an insatiable former girlfriend – tales that simply don’t ring true for the more experienced men.
The penny drops and it becomes apparent that Andy’s secretive nature isn’t so sinister after all. He is simply a virgin – and definitely not a serial killer, as previously suggested – having given up hope after a few disastrous attempts in his youth.
The humiliation Andy feels after he is ‘found out’ is played for laughs, with the scenes that follow showing him stomping about his action figure-filled apartment emitting a sound of excruciating anguish.
But as we see him lying stiffly in his bed, dreading the morning, it is easy to imagine the very real embarrassment at having this private part of his life exposed would have caused.
From an all-too early age, the pressure to conform to societal norms in sex and relationships begins to pile on, even if the cookie cutter version doesn’t quite match up with your own hopes and desires. As an exasperated Andy says later in the film, ‘Why is everything about sex?’
The pressure to lose your virginity is quite intense for young men, as reflected in many
American high school movies of the same era, which frame a person’s virginity as a burden to be shed as quickly as possible.
According to statistics from a 2019 National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal) poll, a quarter of British men between the ages of 17 and 24 feel they lost their virginity at ‘the wrong time’. A worrying 44% did not feel ‘ready’ at the time, even if they had been of age.
I would argue that a close, caring group of mates at this transitional stage in your life – no matter what age you are – can be so important when developing enough confidence to know what’s right for you and when.
Sex is something millions of people do every day, and yet it’s also deeply personal, with each individual having their own personal boundaries and hang-ups. True friends are those who understand and respect that, remaining encouraging without being judgemental or unkind.
Andy may be pushing middle age, but The 40-Year-Old Virgin is absolutely a coming-of-age movie where the protagonist begins to feel comfortable in his own skin, able to speak truthfully about himself and his life without the nerves and shame that have kept him from opening up to others.
Upon a rewatch, it’s still genuinely quite heartwarming to see David, Cal and Jay enthusiastically pledge their help to Andy, without cruelty or mockery, determined to see their new friend thrive.
Although their advice and guidance may be hit-and-miss – and often outright risky – the gang’s support and encouragement helps ease Andy into trying new things, ultimately discovering what he likes and what he absolutely does not like.
We see Andy learn to flirt with a bookstore clerk – with some success – and realise that he would be rather binge-watch episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond than work his way through a huge box of porn.
Ultimately, Andy emerges as a romantic person who only has eyes for his beloved Trish (Catherine Keener), a business owner, mother and grandmother whose wealth of life experience stands in stark contrast with Andy’s tightly regulated existence.
However, Andy’s discomfort with one-night stands and Space Nuts isn’t framed as something weird or lacking. Indeed, the film takes surprising care to touch upon just how different sexual experience can be, with Andy’s journey being just one of many.
It isn’t simply the case that Andy’s new-found friendship group are romance experts who have their own lives perfectly mapped out. Far from it.
Jay is, by his own admission, ‘insecure’, cheating on his long-suffering girlfriend as a means of feeling better about himself. David has long been embittered by a two-year-old break-up that left him heartbroken and angry, as unable to move on as Andy with his sealed collectable figures.
In many ways, although this film follows Andy’s quest to lose his virginity, this is also a story which shows there are no easy answers to success in this tricky, unmapped area.
As with driving – another significant knowledge gap for Andy – experience in the bedroom is all too often tied in with ideas about maturity and masculinity, a doorway into adulthood.
And yet in many ways, Andy is shown to grow in maturity way before his long-awaited first time. He’s good with children, and is happy to ‘out’ himself as a virgin at a sexual health clinic to save the embarrassment of his future stepdaughter.
Other characters in the film also undergo significant transformations over the course of the narrative, emphasising that there is far more to learn about sex and relationships that can be learned from a plastic replica vagina.
We see Jay questioning his philandering ways after his girlfriend breaks up with him, leading to a conversation with Andy about how sex has the power to ruin a relationship. By the end of the movie, we see Jay back with his girlfriend, committed and excited to welcome their new baby.
Meanwhile, David’s obsession with ex-girlfriend Amy leads to him having an emotional breakdown at work and to him deciding go celibate, reasoning that Andy’s lack of heartbreak has kept him youthful.
Towards the end of the film, it’s suggested that David has developed feelings for the new girl at work, Bernadette, breaking the toxic cycle he had become trapped in post-Amy.
There are, of course, aspects of the movie that don’t translate well to the year 2020. The character of David, for instance, has more than a touch of Joe from You to him, and there are a couple of homophobic jokes that weren’t so funny upon a rewatch.
But ultimately, it was nice to see a group of friends having each other’s backs; comfortable when expressing their emotions with each other, and when opening up about their concerns and vulnerabilities.
It was also nice to revisit the scene where the gang rescue Andy from a sexual situation he wasn’t comfortable with, recognising that he was acting out of character when he left a club with a girl he wasn’t really interested in.
By this time, the pals understood Andy better and knew he really wanted to have his first time with Trish, a woman he had got to know and developed feelings for, rather than with a stranger who made him feel awkward and unlike himself.
In 2019, a rather sad YouGov poll found that 18% of British men didn’t have a person they could call their best friend, while 32% didn’t even have someone they could call a close friend.
As a comparison, with women the figures were a significantly lower 12% and 24%. It was also discovered that women were better at making new friends, with 22% reporting they had forged a new friendship within the past six months, compared to 18% of men.
It’s tough to make and retain friendships as an adult, particularly in these uncertain times. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek to make things a little easier for those around us, acknowledging and supporting others in a way that could well develop into something stronger.
The 40-Year-Old Virgin is a celebration of the mix of silliness and support that make up close friendships. The back-and-forth banter and inside jokes that have sustained many of us during lockdown.
Like many people, I’ve been compiling lists of heart-warming films guaranteed to cheer me up during what has been a difficult time for everyone.
And I’ve been surprised by how well a film that uses the word ‘p*ssy’ in most sentences fits in with my fail-safe Richard Curtis classics and well-worn Disney gems.
Make yourself a egg salad sandwich, message a friend to see how they’re doing and whack it on the telly. Preferably in your own home, rather than at a busy electronics store.
You can stream The 40-Year-Old Virgin on Netflix now.
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