Over the last few years, Steve Carell has transformed himself from an amusing bit-player on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" to a legitimate star of film and television. With critically-recieved performances in films like 'Little Miss Sunshine' and his unforgettable, weekly transformation into Dunder Mifflin's Michael Scott on NBC's "The Office," it's hard to remember a time when he was less of a household name. But when 'The 40 Year Old Virgin' first came out in 2005, Carell was just a top-notch supporting actor who'd had the good fortune to appear in a series of high profile comedies ('Bruce Almighty,' 'Anchorman,' and 'Bewitched' to name a few). No one predicted the sudden rise to stardom Carell would receive from his sweet and naïve performance in what most thought would be another dumb sex comedy.
Carell plays Andy Stitzer, a shy middle-aged man who works at an electronics superstore and collects action figures. When co-workers David (Paul Rudd), Jay (Romany Malco), and Cal (Seth Rogen) need an extra poker player for their weekly game, they invite the seemingly reclusive Andy along for the evening. He agrees, joining them more out of loneliness than anything else, but he quickly finds himself in above his head. Accidentally revealing the biggest secret of his life -- that he's still a virgin at forty years old -- his newfound friends become determined to help Andy achieve what he deems the impossible. But Andy doesn't function well in their world of speed-dating, bar hopping, and fast talking women. Instead, he finds himself drawn to a troubled single mother named Trish who works at a local EBay store.
While on the surface it may seem a throwback to the raunchy sex comedies of the '80s, the thing that sets 'The 40 Year-Old Virgin' apart from the crowd is its genuine heart. Andy isn't a sex-crazed loser -- instead, he's a lonely man who's never learned how to step out of his comfort zone and find what he wants. As much as his friends want him to focus on getting laid, Andy is far more concerned with finding acceptance and companionship.
Carell is amazing in this role, and is clearly a master of the small nuances that help shape a realistic character. Light eye twitches, expressions when no one is looking, and a series of obvious defense mechanisms make his portrayal of Andy endearingly sad, rather than pathetic.
In fact, as the film progresses, it becomes painfully clear that Andy may be the only one in his circle with his head still screwed on straight, since his misadventures in the adult world have kept him stripped of the things that make everyone else so cynical. This revelation gives the film a subtlety sorely lacking in other films of its genre, although it should be emphasized that this is also one very funny (and raunchy) movie -- I laughed myself to tears on more than one occasion.
Depending on your outlook, the only possible downside to this otherwise winning formula is its ever-present cringe factor. Like 'Meet the Parents,' much of the comedy in '40 Year-Old Virgin' is dependent upon a well-meaning character being put through a gauntlet of misunderstandings and uncomfortable situations before everything is resolved. As much as I enjoy films like this, they often make me so uncomfortable that there's a part of me that can't wait to get to the ending so I can breathe a giant sigh of relief. If you're one of those people, you may find 'The 40 Year Old Virgin' tough to watch at times.
In the end though, any such pain is well worth it, as 'The 40 Year Old Virgin' is both an extremely funny and heartfelt riff on its clichéd genre. If you haven't seen this one yet, I certainly recommend it.
(Note that this HD DVD edition includes the "Unrated" version of the film. A full seventeen minutes longer than the R-Rated theatrical edition, this cut adds a few extra jokes, exchanges, and raunchy situations.)
Presented in 1080p using the VC-1 codec, 'The 40 Year Old Virgin' on HD DVD is certainly a step up from the standard-def DVD, but it fails to pop quite as much as most in its high-def brethren. Colors are well saturated and vivid at times, but occasionally feel flat and dusty. The contrast and black levels are also a mixed bag -- sometimes they're bright and deep, but at other times they make the picture feel murky. Jump from a scene in Trish's EBay store and compare it to her date with Andy at the Japanese Hibachi restaurant. As you'll see, the skintones lean a bit toward green, the balloons don't seem three dimensional or vibrant, and the dark corners of the room aren't consistent. There are countless other examples of this visual wavering throughout the film, with the picture rarely leaping off the screen in the way I've come to expect with high definition.
Source-wise, while there aren't any distracting instances of noise, artifacting, banding, or grain, the print itself is sprinkled with occasional marks and spots, which is particularly strange for such a recent release. However, compared to the standard DVD, this HD DVD edition is still a nice upgrade. The transfer on the original DVD was plagued by mosquito noise, haloing, and terrible bouts of edge enhancement. By comparison, this HD DVD edition boasts a clean image (albeit one that retains some edge enhancement), sharp resolution, and impressive fine object detail that kept me relatively happy as a fan of the film.
Featuring a Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround mix (1.5 Mbps) and a Dolby stereo track that I won't even comment on, the audio may be more consistent than the video, but it's just as much of a mixed bag. While a dialogue-centric design keeps most of the soundfield front-heavy, voices are crisp, treble tones are stable, and bass pulses rumble when necessary. Dialogue is spread across multiple channels rather than just the center speaker and I was pleased to hear an impressive dynamic range present in such a limited soundscape. Effects are authentic, different rooms have convincing acoustics, and scenes set in apartments or restricted interior spaces are wonderful.
Unfortunately, every scene doesn't take place in a small room. More generally, the sound design is barebones and -- as a result -- the sets occasionally sound like sets instead of real world environments. Scenes set in the nightclub are a perfect example of this lack of ambient noise -- I'd even go as far as to compare the sound design in these moments to that of an SNL skit. The non-vocal prioritization is weak, with music that's often pushed so far into the background that it ceases from populating the world of the film. In short, this mix is certainly serviceable, but it's not going to give your sound system much of a workout.
This HD DVD release is packed to the brim with special features -- some from the original DVD release, some from the just-released "Double Your Pleasure" 2-disc DVD release, and some exclusive to this HD DVD. It's enough content to make you wonder if the video quality of this release might have been improved had most of these supplements been pushed onto a second HD DVD disc.
Anyway, first up is a feature length commentary with director Judd Apatow, Steve Carell, and a number of other cast members. To its credit, there are so many people chatting at various moments that the track is never silent. At the same time, this also leads the track into some confusing moments when too many participants are talking at once. Apatow is engaging, but it's Carell who constantly steals the show. He never hams things up, but he has a biting sarcasm and humor that burns through almost every person in the room. I would definitely point fans in the direction of this commentary -- there's a lot of fun to be had throughout.
Expanding the disc's behind-the-scenes exploration are a group of standard definition featurettes that cover various different aspects of the production. A group of videos called "Judd's Video Diaries" (21 minutes) include lengthy and candid footage that director Judd Apatow captured on a handheld camcorder during the shooting schedule. The best part of this feature are his brief interviews with the cast -- it's clear that each person is having a great time and I enjoyed taking the time to watch them all. A collection of "Auditions" (8 minutes) features try-outs from Jonah Hill, Elizabeth Banks, Romany Malco, Shelley Malil, Jane Lynch, Gerry Bednob, and Jazzmun. The best of the bunch is Gerry Bednob who ended up playing the fiery Mooj -- even in this audition, his rage is so readily apparent that he has the director behind the camera rolling with laughter. A collection of "Raw Footage" (19 minutes) covers three scenes (including the infamous waxing shots) with no cuts or edits, exactly as they were captured on the day of shooting. Finally, a "Rehearsals" video (5 minutes) includes rehearsal footage with Carell, Rudd, Malco, and Rogen for a rewritten scene at a poker game. All of these features nicely fill in the gaps and provide glimpses of various stages of production that aren't normally covered in supplemental packages.
A series of 24 "Deleted Scenes" (18 minutes) feature cuts included on the older standard DVDs and some from the new "Double Your Pleasure" 2-disc DVD release. While a few of them are only brief scene extensions, most are amusing and some are downright hilarious. Several of the scenes also include commentary with Apatow and Rogen, but both men tend to babble rather than discussing the merits or faults of the cut footage.
Following that comes a group of extended scenes that appear in the movie in shorter form. "You Know How I Know You're Gay?" (5 minutes) is a full-length cut of the scene where Rudd and Rogen try and insult each other while playing a video game. It's slightly funny, but the tighter cut in the film had more of an impact than this repetitive take that quickly fizzles. "Date A-palooza" (9 minutes) is a better extension that follows Andy and the guys when they visit the speed dating luncheon in the film. This scene remains brisk and is easily as funny as the cut that appears in the movie itself. Finally, "Line-O-Rama" (6 minutes) is a montage highlighting a variety of excised one-liners and alternate responses by Steve Carell to other characters and situations in the final cut of the film. While they play more like outtakes than extended scenes, they're just as consistently amusing.
Next up are two television shows in standard definition -- Comedy Central's "Reel Comedy Roundtable" (21 minutes) and Cinemax's "Final Cut" (13 minutes). Both are promotional fluff, drowned by way too much final film footage. There are a few nice moments with Apatow, Carell, Rudd, Rogen, and Malco but, for the most part, the information they provide is hit upon in better features elsewhere on the disc.
Next is a group of smaller featurettes including "My Dinner with Stormy" (2 minutes) where Rogen has a chat with a porn star named Stormy, a "Gag Reel" (5 minutes) with outtakes and bloopers, and a "Waxing Doc" (4 minutes) that covers the day of shooting when Carell lost a lot of chest hair.
Finally, there's a terribly entertaining "1970's Sex Ed Film" (5 minutes) that's as ridiculous as you might imagine (or remember), plus a trailer for Apatow and Rogen's new feature film, 'Knocked Up.'
Boasting a career-making performance from Steve Carell, 'The 40 Year Old Virgin' smashes genre walls, delivering a raunchy sex comedy that's as heartfelt as it is hilarious. As an HD DVD release, the video and audio on this disc are nothing to write home about, but an over-stuffed set of supplements (including a high-def exclusive "U-Control" track) picks up the slack, delivering a package that's often as entertaining as the film itself.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.