Dennis suggests The 40 Year Old Virgin (in Comedy). I will go on the record at this point and say that Judd Apatow has been the most influential figure in American comedy in this (admittedly young) century. Sure, it took a while for anyone to notice; he co-created “Freaks and Geeks”, the best high
school-set comedy/drama ever…and nobody watched it and it was canceled in less than a season. He tried to shift the magic to college in the more traditionally-sitcommy “Undeclared”…and it was canceled even quicker. Rather than get discouraged, however, Apatow refined his comic technique, remembered all of those talented people he’d worked with, and unleashed all of his talents on this surprisingly touching, yet undeniably, raucously profane tale of Andy, a sweet, lonely dude who’s never gotten any. Sure, it’s a set-up for a juvenile snigger-fest, and, on one level, it is that, but only a stick-up-the-butt ninny would come away from this movie thinking that’s all it is. Credit all around: Steve Carrell creates one of the most rounded, touchingly hilarious characters in movie history. His Andy Stitzer could have been just a figure of fun and, while he is that, he’s also a really nice, normal guy; it’s just that he’s a bit awkward and shy, and has sort of given up on the idea that he’ll ever find a woman to touch his dangle, channeling his sexual energy, instead, into clean living, a nice apartment, and, as one of his new friends states incredulously, “more video games than a teenaged Asian kid”. He’s unobtrusively content to be the stock manager at a Best Buy-type box store until a chance invitation to play cards brings him into contact with three boisterous coworkers, and his secret out into the open. His three new friends are played by Romany Malco, Paul Rudd, and Seth Rogen, three masters of improvisation. The relationship of these funny, riffing cats to Carrell’s Andy is really the heart of the movie; while they can’t help but make fun of his situation, each of them genuinely comes to like him,
and their well-meaning but inappropriate advice, while causing a succession of very funny disasters for the hapless Andy, both reveals their desire to help out their new friend and reveals their own blind spots, insecurities, and weaknesses. Couple all that with the gloriously sane and sexy Katherine Keener as the twinkly “sexy grandma” who catches Andy’s eye, a colorful cast of adept improvisers, and the unique Apatow editing touch, which encouraged improvisation from his brilliant cast, but ruled with an iron hand in the cutting room, to streamline the narrative to as nearly perfect a comedy machine as I can remember, ever. Improv is a harsh, unforgiving mistress; she tends to ramble, and it can’t all be gold, so the director has to be ruthless. Just check out the deleted scenes on the DVD; they’re funny, for the most part, but you can see the logic of why they were jettisoned; see also Anchorman, “The Office” (USA), and Apatow’s Knocked Up, and Superbad (produced by Apatow, natch’). (This is a lesson that any director who’s ever worked with Robin Williams should learn, and pronto, for all our sakes*). I’ve seen this movie about thirty times, and I’m not close to exhausting its charms. Probably the funniest, most satisfying movie I’ve seen in ten years.
(Oh, and go ahead and plug in the commentary track which is nothing less than all the talented, brilliant cats involved riffing for an hour and a half; more entertaining than most actual movies).
*Writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait learned that very lesson last year in the Robin Williams’- starring dark comedy World’s Greatest Dad, which single-handedly called off the “Academy Awards Dignity Reclamation Task Force” which was preparing to storm Williams’ house to take back his Oscar. Williams is brilliant in that movie.