Monday, August 22, 2005

What’s wrong with The 40 Year Old Virgin

Catherine Keener is better than Wonder Bread

Now, of course I haven’t seen this movie. I never go to the movies. The last movie I saw was the Ingmar Bergman doom-fest, Saraband. And yes, that was two weeks ago, but that was breaking a spell of about a year, and only because it was incredibly hot in New York City that weekend. And actually, Saraband was made for tv. Imagine, I paid to see a made-for-TV Bergman film. But don’t think that this small fact will deter me from critiquing one of the basic premises of The 40-Year Old Virgin—that somehow a geeky, mal-adjusted man who looks like Ed Helms (played by Steve Carrell) can get a woman as beautiful as Catherine Keener.

Let’s get all the reasons out of the way as to why I should like this film. It was written and directed by Judd Apatow, and let’s face it—what woman who loves Keener didn’t also love Freaks and Geeks? And yes, I almost liked The Ben Stiller Show, despite the fact that Ben Stiller was in it (it was his show, after all). And what about The Cable Guy, one of only a handful of tolerable performances from Jim Carrey and Matthew Broderick? Writing this, I realize that Apatow has worked with a lot of actors I actively dislike. Beside the above list, there’s also Will Ferrell. Judd—what’s the problem here? If you threw a party and invited me, I’d have a smack-down with each and every one of these guys. OK—don’t invite me. Really, it’ll be a much better party without me.

Oh, I forgot about the other reasons—Steve Carrell and Keener. I’ll get to more about her later.

Anyway, from what I glean from the teevee commercialsThe 40 Year-Old Virgin is a middle-age guy’s version of any number of teen movies featuring some hot teenage girl with glasses and overalls and a pony-tail, and at the end of the movie she combs her hair and gets contacts and goes shopping at Forever-21, and gets a date with Freddie Prinz Jr. I’m dumbing it down a little, but that’s the idea. I’m sure it’s not so smarmy, and doesn’t have any Icelandic bands on the soundtrack. Only there’s this: Carrell is not beautiful. In or out of argyle. My boyfriend, whom I’ll call Jack (it’s an old joke my cat made—ok??) says Carrell is attractive, but Jack is dating me, so we must assume that his idea of attractiveness is skewed.

My beef with the ugly (Carrell’s not ugly, but I like hyperbole) guy getting the beautiful woman goes way back. I’ve written essays about this in every zine I’ve ever been associated with. But the Kenner thing is particularly stinging for some reason. Because I think that somewhere, someone is thinking that this really could happen. If only… Catherine Keener was a single mother. See, that single mother thing makes her damaged in a subtle, subliminal way, making the whole thing almost plausible. But not! It’s Catherine Keener!!

Let’s look over Keener’s resume: hot bitch who toys with John Cusack in Being John Malkovich. Hot bi bitch in Your Friends and Neighbors. Hot TV exec bitch in Death to Smoochy. And I swear I saw in eating a hot dog in a documentary about unusual architecture. We’ll call that “castrating hot-dog bitch.” And yet, we like her and her bitchiness. She has a smile that says “I’m smiling now, but in the next second I could stab you with a nail file. The wound wouldn’t be deep, but it would be embarrassing.” Also, she’s 45. FORTY-FIVE. How can you not love a woman who plays these roles at 45, and with no hint of “I’m a psycho” in her eyes?

And, although I’m happy to see Keener playing outside of type, I don’t want her to join the long line of ladies who are just good enough for ugly dudes. The list: anyone who dated George Costanza on Seinfeld. Janeane Garofolo. Anyone who dated Drew Carey’s character. Leah Remini. & c.

Catherine, let’s you and I have a talk. I’ll be Blanche and you be Stella. There are such things in the world as music and art. Don’t hang back with the beasts! Go back to being a bitch, and make another movie with John Cusack, cus we used to like him too.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You make good points in this, but I never said Steve Carrell was attractive. I just said he wasn't nuattractive. He certainly isn't homely on the
level of George Castanza or Drew Carey. He's not fat. He doesn't have any outstandingly ugly features. The worst you can say is that he's kind
of plain looking. It might be a bit of a stretch to match him with Catherine Keener, but perhaps I only say that because I think she's really great.
That said, I don't really know anything about her as a person. I just know that I often find he characters she plays intriguing and attractive in a dark
kind of way. Her sexiness, though, is based more in how she carries herself than it is in her looks.

- Jack

5:20 PM  
Blogger Jon Konrath said...

I actually saw the movie this weekend and liked it. But I didn't think much about the ugly/attractive whatever angle. I saw it more as a setup to have a bunch of Carrell's characters' friends sort of go off on him in this whole quest to get him laid, therefore working in a bunch of crude humor and good jokes at his expense. It worked in that aspect. because Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen's characters were really fucking funny. I also think it worked well because this was strongly aimed at an R-rating, and they didn't have to dumb things down for the PG-13. Keener is pretty hot though, 45 or not.

5:48 PM  
Blogger Marie said...

well, Jack, if that is your real name... OK. I have a tendency to hyperbolicize.

5:50 PM  
Blogger Dashiell said...

a) 95% of movies are about not so great looking guys (or old guys - see: Sean Connery) getting beautiful women who are out of their league.

b) It happens in real life too. Don't tell me you've never met a couple and said "how did those two end up together?"

c) Catherine Keener isn't that great.

8:14 PM  
Blogger Daniel said...

I'm right there with you about the disturbing part being the sexism of writing her as being a single mom and thus damaged somehow and that's why he able to get her. I'm not saying that never happens, but there is a contrived and not so subtle moral lesson there for women. Which is made far _more_ irksome by the fact that the equivalent movie with ugly single dad would _also_ end up with the beautiful girl because, well, he's so responsible. So to be clear: parenthood on women:damaged::men:mature. _Nice_.

10:22 AM  
Anonymous virginia said...

alright, I'll pile on about a movie I haven't seen either! I'm with Jack; Steve Carrell isn't bad-looking, as a matter of fact, in this movie HE'S the perfectly attractive girl made "ugly" with a goofy haircut and clothes. This couple is actually more cuteness-equal than most movie couples. Isn't part of why we like Catherine Keener that she doesn't look like a movie star (and thus we notice more that she's talented and funny and agreeably malevolent)?

Great point Daniel about single-parent double standard. Watching one of the ugliest movies I've ever seen, As Good As It Gets I marvelled that the mentally ill misanthrope played by the sexy-only-to-straight-men Jack Nicholson was supposed to be some kind of PRIZE that the pretty, kind Helen Hunt character has EARNED and wondering if it was because she had a kid. Maybe it was the crow's feet.

The Nicholson-as-romantic-coup ouevre is as baffling to me as Bush voters.

10:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've always heard that women like men who make them laugh. And soccer moms are the new Britney. So where's the rub? If you find out please let me know, because I need one.
-B. Smeds

12:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am glad "Jack" clarified his views on Steve Carrell's level of attractiveness, because I shuddered to think that he actually said that. My objection to the movie, which, incidentally, I am not going to see either until it shows up on HBO (at which point I will see it approximately 48 times unless something better is on HGTV), is that STEVE CARRELL ISN'T FUNNY. Can we address that more pressing issue? People who are billed as comedians but that aren't, in fact, FUNNY?

How about this for your next topic: Alanis Morrisette and her new Gap ads? What's next, her recipe for apple pie? How much more American can this former infatuated Canadian junkie become? First, so tortured and talented (debatable, but somewhat accepted), then she's selling an acoustic album of stuff she's already sold, at Starbuck's, no less, and changing her citizenship for tax purposes. Shelf that self-righteousness, Alanis, your ship has sailed.

Your sister-in-law,

1:00 AM  
Anonymous souldog said...

If you look up "Basket Case 3: The Progeny" on IMdB, you may find the very angry review by a woman who hates the film because it promulgates the myth that creepy guys can get attractive women. As that film's co-screenwriter, I have no idea where she gets this. Since I know you to be a rational person, perhaps you can explain?

8:57 AM  
Blogger Marie said...

Hey, souldog;
After seeing "Knocked Up" I think I need to re-evaluate my anger about "The 40-Year Old Virgin." It was actually a vert sweet film, and Carrell's and Keener's characters were very nuanced. And it had a lot of funny moments. "Knocked Up" was everything I complained about, but set to 11.

Regarding horror, I think a lot of women have a knee-jerk reaction towards the treatment of women in these movies--girls who have sex get killed, no one likes the brainy girl... there are a lot of stereotypes that abound in the genre. However, horror in general is extreme, and paints in broad strokes. These are more archetypes than actual people. And then there are the more subtle horror films, that tend to be humorous--they have an underlayer of social satire that many viewers fail to see. Not seeing it doesn't detract from the enjoyment of the film, but in some cases people may not notice that the stereotypes are being made fun of. Take a movie like "Frankenhooker," for example. It is clearly satire, and in fact is a commentary on how geeky guys believe they should have the woman of their dreams, and will make her by any means necessary. At the beginning of the film, the lead is in love with a fat girl, which shows that at one point he was more realistic about his expectations. It's the accident that makes him into a crazy man. But for a viewer who somehow missed the humor, they might see this as sexist.

Ultimately, as an artist, one probably needs to acknowledge those opinions, but ignore them. Especially if it comes only from one person.

6:26 PM  

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