Took me a while to get to go see this film. Not because I avoided it on purpose, not at all. Steve Carell has been a funny guy before that film, and even though everybody just discovered him this past summer as the lovable virgin, I knew him from The Daily Show appearances, the short-lived Watching Ellie, Bruce Almighty and of course, The Anchorman. His atypically funny – not always going for the obvious; and not always rushing to the punchline. He takes his time with jokes, building them up, improvising along the way. And that’s the feeling this movie gave me. Behind the gags and fish-out-of-water situations, there’s a genuinely funny story about a guy who never got laid. A guy who’s being encouraged by co-workers to overcome that particular obstacle, and as soon as possible.
The movie is now out on DVD, supposedly with more raunchy material, and more dirty jokes. This is a dumb marketing ploy, because frankly I didn’t lust for more lust in the film. I found it more sweet and kind than filthy and titillating. Maybe I’m not the intended audience. Either way, I liked the movie. First of all, because of the casting. Catherine Keener, Leslie Lynch, Leslie Mann, all with a great comic timing, providing a believable romantic interest and hilarious situations for Andy (Steve Carell) to stumble upon. Then there are the men — Paul Rudd, Romany Mulco and Seth Rogen. All nice guys, and all genuinely want to help Andy with his problem. Except, like in any male group, there’s the dominant one, and the submissive ones. So there’s always going to be one who’s chronically exaggerating just about everything in his life, and another who’s trying to imitate “alpha male” behaviour, but it conflicts with his moral values. It’s funny to watch these guys interact and fill the roles so well, while Andy is just taking notes from these “models”.
The plot itself it paper-thin, but provides for endless virginity-losing combinations, and horror stories from the past. What differs this movie from any sex comedies is lack of tasteless, crass moments that cause groans and not laughter. The movie likes its characters, and really likes the idea of celibacy, in fact there’s a great sequence at a planned parenthood session in a hospital when Andy defends his personal choice in front of people who seem to be obsessed with “doing it”. It’s a bit old-fashioned, but it makes sense. Why rush into something, or worse, do it because of peer pressure? Why not wait until the right person, and even when you find that person (Keener), why not get to know each other instead of the standard “dinner-pub-bed” fare? The movie deals well with this issue, presenting both sides, testing their strength (eg. can you really function well if sex is taken out of a relationship), but never mocking its characters or their beliefs.
This is a smarter, kinder version of American Pie films, and it does have a message. The only problem I found with that movie is it took a little time to get where it was going. A little long, a bit too many adventures happen to Andy. But they’re all believable, and given his strength and sweetness, each one is a great sequence. I just wanted to get to the end a little sooner, that’s all.
I hope sex comedy writers take notes from this film. Here’s a subject matter that’s private, counter-intuitive, and very, very embarrassing (given today’s early exposure to sexuality). Instead of torturing the characters (and audience) with prolonged gimmicked situations, we have a group of friendly, open-minded (albeit misguided) folks who are trying to help each other, perhaps too much. And we got a perfect straight man (Steve Carell) who’s got a knack for being lovable and hilarious at the same time.
Way to go to the writers, and to the main cast. An old idea, in a tired genre, presented with love and attention to characters and not gags.