That Moment In ‘The 40-Year-Old Virgin’ (2005): Andy Asks Questions
A closer look at a crucial moment in this classic comedy.
The 40-Year-Old-Virgin is about a man who has never ‘been’ with a woman, finding the pressure to do so almost unbearable as his friends push him to try and the single mother he starts dating looks to go to the next level.
After Andy (Steve Carell) tells his friends at a poker game that a woman’s breast feels like a bag of sand, they guess pretty quickly that he’s a virgin. The remarkable thing is that they don’t ridicule him, instead make a pact to get their friend some action. One of those friends is Cal (Seth Rogan), a pot-smoking slacker-type with a surprisingly sensitive and creative side. On their lunch break, Cal explains to Andy that most men don’t know how to talk to women, telling him that the key is to just ask questions, that’s it, because women don’t really care what men have to say and all they want to do is talk about themselves. He further advises him to be cool like David Caruso in the film Jade, a character not particularly well-known for his soft side.
In a book store, they see an attractive young woman stocking shelves. Andy knows what to do. He eases close by and simply stands beside her, not saying a word, looking around like he’s bored. Naturally, she’s curious and doing her job. She asks if she can help him, to which he relies dryly, “I don’t know. Can you?”
She presses on, and each question she asks elicits an echo from him, where he continually turns it back on her, which interestingly enough, really seems to work. With each husky, low-key response Andy provides, Beth (Elizabeth Banks) becomes a little more intrigued, melting a bit with every passing reply.
The conversation advances, and it becomes clear that the two are flirting, his passive indifference exciting her as sexual innuendo wraps itself around every word they say. When it builds to a climax, Andy does the smooth thing, switches gears and instead of asking a question, makes a bold statement and casually walks way, leaving her breathless and wanting more. It’s the epitome of ‘cool’ and has her almost panting, but more importantly, fills him with a courage and confidence he’s never experienced. When he meets up with Cal right after, he’s charged by the encounter.
Directed by Judd Apatow, this moment really puts Andy in a different light, revealing that just under the surface lies the potential to be the man many try to be, a player in a game that is all about presenting a false front designed to better seduce a target. We hardly even recognize him, once he speaks, but there is even more subtlety on display that shows him as a changed Andy. Notice the stiffer posture and confident walk. This is a person we assumed didn’t exist within the shy, introspective shell he has been throughout. It’s surprising to see that he can occupy the role so easily (I love that the book title right next to Andy’s face is ‘BEANS’ a common euphemism for lying, as in ‘full of beans.’).
What makes this moment count is the realization that Andy really does have the tools to be like his friends. He could have had a long history of casual sex if he’d just pretended to be something he isn’t. That’s the point of Andy though, a character who, like many great innocents in film, is incapable of personal gain through false pretense. He can’t find happiness by way of deceit. We follow him because he represents the ‘good man’, a person we want to be or want to meet, an idealized version of the incorruptible hero. His journey is about suffering and learning, to survive the trials of the quest and reach his destination with his morals intact and the reward justified. Beth is a siren, a temptation that nearly steals the prize, her allure and sexual dynamism one that would certainly end his voyage, but rob him of the emotional context that his girlfriend Trish (Catherine Keener) will eventually provide, giving Andy the completeness he deserves.