Thursday, April 16, 2015

Straying from the Party Line: The Lame Third Act Escalation in The 40 Year Old Virgin

It’s a week of long posts!
So let’s talk about the weakest part of The 40 Year Old Virgin: The lame escalation that launches the final sequence of the movie.

At first, everything is escalating nicely, but soon it gets weird…
  1. After a believable fight with Trish, Andy decides to revert to Cal and Jay’s advice: he gets drunk at Jay’s engagement party and hits on the bookstore girl, Beth. She’s into it and they go to her house.
  2. At her house, Beth gets freakier and Andy loses interest. As he leaves her bathroom, he finds his friends in her bedroom. (We get a lame explanation that Jay once had sex with her and kept a key, an explanation that is both dubious and supremely creepy, but quickly glossed over.) They convince Andy to recommit to Trish instead, so he leaves and bicycles home (Why not go to Trish’s house?) Meanwhile, Cal goes into the bathroom to presumably to have sex with Beth, who doesn’t even know him. (We later see them together at the wedding.)
  3. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to him, Trish’s daughter Marla has convinced her to go try to fix things with Andy, so Trish is waiting at Andy’s house. He gets there and finds her going through David’s box of porn, which shocks and appalls her. She also finds some pill and assumes that it’s a rape drug for some reason.
  4. She storms out, and he has to chase her on his bike, finally crashing in front of her, confessing he’s a virgin and winning her over.
Here we arrive at one of Apatow’s strangest qualities: he makes very dirty comedies that betray some bizarrely outdated conservative beliefs. In 2005, what liberated woman would be offended to find a box of porn in her new boyfriend’s apartment? And even if that could happen, why on earth is it the final escalation of this movie?
In order to trigger a final crisis, surely it would have made far more sense for Andy to invite Beth back to his house? After all…
  • It makes much more sense that his friends might have a key to let themselves in.
  • We get one desperate bike ride by Andy, not two, which eliminates a repeated beat.
  • Keener would have a genuine reason to get upset, finding Beth there.
Shifting to Meddler mode, I can easily imagine a version that works much better:
  1. Beth is in Andy’s tub, but he thinks better of sleeping with her, so he backs away only to find the guys in his apartment urging him to make it work with Trish. They quickly explain the situation to Beth and she understands.
  2. The guys realize that Trish has just arrived, so they try to sneak Beth out first, but they run right into Trish and improvise different lies about who Beth is, so she figures it out.
  3. Trish confronts Andy who fails to explain, and Trish drives away. He catches up and explains that all of his behavior (including almost sleeping with Beth) was driven by his insecurity over his virginity. She understands and they kiss.
  4. (Meanwhile, in the course of Cal sneaking Beth out, we get a hint that they’re hitting it off.)
Wouldn’t that be better? Have a genuine conflict instead of a lame misunderstanding!
Crazy Stupid Love was a very similar movie that did a much better job with a similar scene:
  • Carell again plays a 40 year old who belatedly gets some advice on how to have one-night stands, the difference being that in this version it’s after his wife leaves him. At the midpoint, Carell and his estranged wife have a long-hoped-for rapprochement as they wait for a parent-teacher conference, but then it turns out that the teacher is one of Carell’s post-breakup hook-ups, and he never called her back. They both turn on Carell, understandably enough, and he again loses hope of getting his wife back.
I remember while watching that scene how refreshing it was to see our lovelorn hero suffer a deserved humiliation, rather than the mere misunderstandings that so often occur in romantic comedies. The 40 Year Old Virgin should have had the courage to take the same tactic, rather than concocting a lame misunderstanding to motivate the climax.

1 comment:

MCP said...

I am always impressed by the Meddler changes you make to movies. I love The 40 Year Old Virgin but that would have been a better ending.