Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Believe Care Invest in The 40 Year Old Virgin

Okay guys, I’ve been meaning to do these for some time, especially after James dropped his five E’s on us in the last podcast. So I’ve subjected all my movies to a five Es test… but now James wants to drop two more E’s in the next podcast, and I don’t want to have redo all of these so I’d better start posting these first! So let’s start (alphabetically) with Judd Apatow’s The 40 Year Old Virgin!

For each of these, we’ll start with: Why the hero might be hard to care for:
  • John Powers is one of my favorite film critics of all time. When he was reviewing You’ve Got Mail (a remake of The Shop Around the Corner) on “Fresh Air”, he lamented that, “Of course, in this new version, the man and woman both run their own businesses. They can’t work in a shop, because then they’d be losers.” He was right to decry the bastardization or the original, but the fact is, audiences do have a bias against characters who work in retail, so that was something Apatow had to overcome to get us to root for Andy in this movie. 
  • And of course, Andy’s a loser in lots of other ways. It’s one of the great paradoxes of writing: Audiences love underdogs, but we’re hardwired not to like losers, because we want to invest in a hero to win in the end, and we won’t invest in a character who seems like they’re bound to lose. Walking the thin line between underdog and loser is one of any writer’s hardest tasks. 
  • As I used to show in this video (before I went back and censored the clip, because a lot of kids were watching the videos) Andy begins this movie with one of the all time great “Believe” moments: He wakes up with a massive erection, then has to figure out how to pee. The best “Believe” moments are those that make you say, “I recognize that from my own life, but I never thought I’d see it on screen! This is so real!” 
  • We care right away because he seems very lonely, and painfully awkward around the woman in the store, then we wince with embarrassment for him as he tries to hide his shameful secret, unconvincingly telling the others, “No ass is worth thinking that much about, I always say.” 
  • It’s not tremendously easy to invest in Andy yet. It is good that he kicks the guys’ asses at poker. …But wait, let’s look at James’s five Es! They may tell us more about why we invest… 
The Five E’s:
  • Eat: Andy makes himself a nice-looking breakfast, then recounts to Cal a story about carefully making himself an egg salad sandwich. 
  • Exercise: Andy has no sexual outlet, but it’s not for lack of keeping himself in shape. He wakes up and exercises several ways. Then he bicycles to work 
  • Economic Activity: He goes to his job at a stereo store, and seems to do his work well. 
  • Enjoy: Andy can’t really enjoy himself at home, or chatting with co-workers, but then he tries to enjoy hanging out with the guys, and almost succeeds until his love life comes up. 
  • Emulate: For some reason, when he exercises, he looks at a picture of Doug Henning, but that’s all I got. 
In the podcast, I mentioned that character often have a moment where they have to rise above their circumstances, so does he do that?
  • When they invite him to play poker in the story after hours, he says he’ll tell the boss, and they believe him, but then he reveals he was just joking. He’s willing to put his job at risk to find belonging. 
And finally, does he five a black guy?
  • Very much so. Before he bicycles away, he says a friendly hello to his black upstairs neighbors Joe and Sara, who will basically never be seen again.
So is this exercise worth doing?  Let me know!  I think James E’s are proving out to generate some good clues to likeability.  Let’s keep going... 


James Kennedy said...

I haven't seen it in a while, but doesn't he fulfill "emulate" by constantly trying to imitate someone with sexual experience via his clunky, unconvincing sexual banter? Like the line you mention "No ass is worth thinking about that much, I always say" and the infamous part during the poker scene in which he compares the feel of women's breasts to "bags of sand"? In both cases he's desperately pretending that he's not what he is -- a 40-year-old virgin.

Matt Bird said...

Ah, that's interesting! Okay, I'm starting to have more of a sense of what you mean by emulate...