I wish I could approach this review as if I hadn’t seen The 40 Year-Old Virgin since it left theaters and now I’m revisiting and rediscovering it, but I can’t. I love this movie and it’s a regular fixture in my house. If I scroll past it on my cable guide, I stop and watch whichever scene is happening at the moment. I have the old single-disc DVD in a place of honor on a shelf in my office, and it comes down often. I jump at the chance to show it to friends who somehow missed its theatrical run, I invent excuses to make those who have seen it watch it again. When I compiled my obligatory top ten list for 2005, The 40 Year-Old Virgin landed in the number three spot on it. I was wrong. It should have been number one. Over the years and months since my first viewing, against all odds, I’ve developed an even deeper appreciation for the film and this latest DVD re-release of the film goes a long way towards justifying the film as a completely original and masterful work of genius. It’s not just the best movie released in 2005, it deserves a place in history as one of the best ever made. Not best Steve Carell movie, not best comedy, not best comedy with dramatic and romantic overtones. Best movie. Period.
From the title you’d think The 40 Year-Old Virgin is a movie about sex, and yes that’s certainly a part of it. But at its core, Virgin is really about friendship. The friendship between Andy and the other guys at SmartTech is the heart of this film, but when it starts out Andy Stitzer (Steve Carell) is a loner. He’s not a loser really, he’s simply living a quiet, lonely life. He fills his time with hobbies like videogames and action figure collection and why not, he has nothing better to do. He’s alone, but he’s not miserable. Not exactly. But in a way it’s only because he doesn’t know what he’s missing.
One day, Andy’s life changes. The guys at the electronics store where works, who have long suspected he’s a serial killer, invite him to their poker game. They do it more out of pity than anything, but during the game they all start to click. Andy, David (Paul Rudd), Cal (Seth Rogen), and Jay (Romany Malco) couldn’t possibly be more different, but somehow in their differences they manage to bond over just being guys. As things often do when guys get away from women, the poker table talk turns to sex, and the guys discover that Andy is, inexplicably, still a virgin.
David, Cal, and Jay make it their mission to remedy Andy’s situation. It’s their sympathy with his plight that makes the movie work. The film, and Andy’s friends, could have made fun of him, or looked down at him. But director Judd Apatow never lets the movie go there. It’s obvious that he cares desperately about this character, and Andy’s journey to awaken the hope that long ago died inside him is every bit as smart and sensitive as it is outrageously funny and raunch. Oh boy, is it raunchy.
Even when it’s being as R-rated as it can be though, Virgin managed to stay classy. It’s quite a trick really, when you’ve got characters standing around talking donkey sex and dirty sanchez. But the conversations are so grounded in reality, as the sort of crazy conversations we’ve probably all had with our friends when our girlfriends aren’t around, that the movie works beautifully. It’s a comedy (and a ridiculously funny one) yes, but The 40 Year-Old Virgin is so much more than that. This is an incredibly special film.
This “Unrated” version of The 40 Year-Old Virgin has been on DVD before. The difference this time around is they’ve added a second disc, and it’s that second disc that makes this version a must-have for anyone who’s even a casual fan of Virgin or director Judd Apatow’s other work. So let’s dispense with discussing anything that was in the previous release. Yes, there’s seventeen minutes of Unrated footage added into the film, and for once they really mean it when they say Unrated. It’s pretty hard-R stuff. Yes the commentary track from the previous release is here again, along with the same deleted scenes and so on. Let’s get to the new stuff.
The best material on this 2-disc release seems to be aimed squarely at helping the viewer understand how Judd Apatow and his team work. For the uninitiated, any time you see Apatow’s name on something that means improvisation. He shows up on set with a basic script, then asks his actors to take what he’s written and run with it. Rather than having actors do the same line over and over again off the page in order to get the perfect reading, he encourages his actors to come up with their own lines, resulting in dozens of different takes of the same scene, each one completely different from the last. Apatow then picks the best one of those takes, and that’s what you end up with in the movie.
Till now, I’ve never really had a clear picture of how this works. But in this release, tons of production diaries and unedited set footage give us a window into that process. For instance the infamous “You know how I know you’re gay?” sequence is completely uncovered, and its origins explained. Apparently it was never in the script, it’s just something that Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd came up with one day while the cameras were rolling. Aided by commentary from Apatow and Rogen, we see it in its infancy, as the first hint of it appears in a different part of the scene. They liked where it was going, so they simply told them to do more of it, and the “You know how I know you’re gay” scene was born. In other cases, improvisation seems to happen almost as a group effort. Actors stand in a scene giving line after alternate line, firing them off one at a time in almost rapid fire while the cameras roll. When they hit on something that the director likes, you’ll here him shouting for more of it, or in some cases even shouting lines he’s improvised himself while they’re talking, for them to deliver in front of the camera.
Getting such an intimate look at how that completely unique, random, improvisation process works makes this DVD. The rest of it is filler. Sure, some of the extra interviews are nice, the commentary track is hilarious (and shockingly filthy). But this is a must have for anyone who has ever wondered how Apatow and gets all this improvisation to fit together to form an entire movie. Your appreciation for the genius in what he and his actors do will go through the roof. It’s a special thing Apatow is doing, and this is your way inside it. Step up and pay to be a part of it.