More Masculinity: The 40 Year Old Virgin

Films about masculinity seem to be dominating my blog landscape as much as queerness lately. We finally rented The 40 Year Old Virgin (shouldn't there be a hyphen between "year" and "old"?) based on all the hype and friends telling me to see it and a longtime love of The Daily Show. The film definitely surprised me several times and it was, at moments, laugh-out-loud funny. Sadly, my favorite joke in the film was only visible in the deleted scenes section of the DVD. It's the ad lib scene talking about first experiences, where Paul Rudd’s character David says his first climax came so quickly it took a “negative” amount of time. I can only paraphrase, but he said something about knowing time actually moved backwards because when he was done, Lincoln had just been shot.

As far as overall portraits of masculinity, I was most drawn to the way in which the guys became friends. Incredibly implausible, even as you watch it happen, but so endearing. You start to see all the men’s insecurities and enjoy their ridiculously sexist means of trying to bolster each other’s egos and/or snap each other out of embarrassing behavior.

I also loved several of the film’s women, including the incomparable Jane Lynch (a delight in both A Mighty Wind and, especially, Best in Show -- the latter of which being one of my all-time favorite, most repeat-watchable films). Her “seduction” scene of Carell’s Andy was priceless in its inanity. Catherine Keener (Trish) was also stupendous, with her incredibly infectious laugh, stunning smile, and … I confess it was only a visit to IMDB that let me know she was the woman from Living in Oblivion, another film I really enjoyed (the “dwarf scene” is a must-see).

I didn’t like the character of Jay (Romany Malco), I must say. By the end (and in some deleted scenes), he reached the giddy, over-the-top masculine embarrassment factor of his fellow buffoons. But he really felt written by white boys to me, showing more homeboy player machismo than necessary (though we do learn much of it is false bravado…still, it felt like “this is what the Black guy should be like” than a more quirky misfit like Andy, Cal, or David.

Because boss Paula and girlfriend Trish were definitely quirky, I could enjoy a few moments of freedom from women getting worse treatment than men in the film, though the bookstore slut and the drunk chick made up for any equal treatment the film might have wanted to offer.

But sexism is not a major concern for me in the film. First, because both genders come across as neurotic yet well meaning, for the most part. Second, because racism and ageism so overshadow them.

Because the scene was improvised, Carell allegedly really did let his chest be waxed, and the waxer was not scared by his abusive language but laughing at him, I can try to keep a lid on my reaction to any scene with Asian women in massage parlor type spaces. But the film also had other Asian and Arab characters…

I can just imagine the scene where the whiteboy writers/directors/producers/actors all sat down together and decided some funny Indian and Arab guys at the store (Mooj, Haziz) would be hilarious, as would old people talking dirty ( Mooj, the elderly Black couple living upstairs from Andy). I can’t say Gerry Bednob wasn’t fabulous, delivering his grouchy, foul-mouthed old coot performance with delightful gusto -- and we’re not talking evil Arab terrorist characters at least. Moreover, his friendship with Jay was an unexpected twist to a possible antagonism between men of color. But in a film that is about breaking down the stereotype of the nerd, the sensitive guy, the flunky, and the player, why add wacky old farts quipping lines straight out of bad denture and candy bar commercials?

There’s also the Black drag queen, but I haven’t much to say about her. The scene was cropped into a momentary spectacle, though it had the predictable transphobic moment. That Jay may have had some relationship with her keeps it from being just an offensive throwaway.

Overall, I did enjoy the film and found it more creative than I had anticipated (and more creative than originally scripted, if the commentary track is true and the plan was to make the guys the typical nerd-baiters instead of eventual friends). From the male anxiety and unexpected bonding to the wise decision to cast Carell’s love interest as of appropriate age and type, I’ll try to retain fond memories and repress my recollection of the old woman remarking to her husband that Andy needed to get some action or whatever “witty” way she unconvincingly put it.


Anonymous said...

the idea of spending money to watch a film that excuses sexism as humor, whose characters need to pump themselves up (for what? to survive?) as men clawing out of neurotic insecurity...quite frankly turns me off. Sexism is not humor in my be ing...it literally turns me off.

as for the lead actor, i thoroughly enjoyed the one episode of The Office I watched.


Elyce Rae Helford said...

If we opt to watch no film or television show that has sexism in it, we would watch no film or television show, ever. Wrestling with the combination of pleasure and frustration, exploring how sexism is mobilized, to me, is a method of living in the world we have and trying to understand, resist, and challenge it. YMMV.

Anonymous said...

I create change in the film industry as a Director & Producer. I'm care full about what I sponsor with my 10-20 dollars per movie outing. I make no judgements on those who watch what I am not appreciating, just offered my process regarding that film. I'm also one who responds to gut feelings. The previews for 40 yr.-old felt like Animal House and Porky's.


Rochelle said...

Just thought you might be interested in this tidbit--

The manager character was originally written as a male character with little, if any, lines in the film. Carrell pushed for Jane Lynch and she literally improvised every line she had in the movie, according to the commentary feature.