Part I eviscerated a movie that spent a great deal of its time eviscerating whatever’s left of manhood in our culture. Part II is a celebration of some spark of manliness left amidst the detritus brought about by the embrace, on the part of our culture, of the “mook” as it is displayed in “American Pie.”
The mook, if you will remember, is a slovenly, goofy, slightly less intelligent, highly sexualized, heterosexual, young, American male. This, in general, is the culture’s perception of modern manhood, something they mistakenly believe is no longer necessary since even poor Americans now have dishwashers. Also if you remember, it is an insult.
There is mook behavior aplenty in “The 40 Year Old Virgin,” but it is neither condoned nor excused. The same goes for the “midriffs” (the female equivalent of a mook) that are displayed. If you ever make the effort of watching this equally raunchy sex comedy all the way through to the end, you will see at least one man and one woman who are willing to take their feelings for each other seriously while abandoning any notion of our corporate-feminized entertainment industry’s ideas about mooks and midriffs. Not only that, but even the “mookiness” of the straight men in this film should be considered secondary to the valuable information one can glean about male-male platonic relationships.
There are certainly moments when the other three main male characters act like mooks. One guy gets drunk at work and moons everyone with a video camera (simultaneously visible on every TV screen in the store). Another guy is cheating on his wife and enlisting the help of the other guys in keeping up the charade. A third guy (my favorite), in an especially nasty-but-funny moment, confesses to crossing the border from southern California to watch a woman get busy with a horse in Tijuana: “To be honest I just felt bad for her, we all just felt bad for her… I kinda felt bad for the horse.”
But there’s another angle to consider. Each of these men is holding down a job. Underneath the tough exterior and all the foul-mouthed insults are men who obviously like and care about each other. In the end, all four men have found a soul mate, but not just that: Each of the women with whom they end up has her own obvious faults and flaws.
Women are shown getting drunk, driving while drunk, puking, and turning off the main character (played by Steve Carell) big time in numerous other ways. The nicer women are far from domineering or demanding. Emotionally, they are fully expressive, hurt about their faults, but still eager for their men. One of them has a jaded, cynical teenaged daughter who herself is a virgin, and in this regard, Carell’s character takes the helm as a father figure, encouraging her to wait. Why? Well, just because. Perhaps his explanation is insufficient, but it is not forced on her. How ready for sex can a young woman be who has yet to get a job or ever pay rent? Beyond that, he even has the audacity to open up with his own feelings about his own situation. Imagine that: a man who is concerned platonically with a woman’s feelings but stands his ground. Huh.
As for the eponymous virginity, I am loathe to give away the ending, but it turns out that the whole exercise in getting Carell to “lose it” proves useless. All he needed was encouragement to pursue the lovely Catherine Keener and that’s that. He didn’t need to become a mook, a ladies’ man, or a player at all. He just needed to be honest with himself and others as to who he was and how things worked for him. (And in spite of my disagreements with James Bowman’s review, I find that I must once again point readers in his direction, because his take on this film, which he gave no stars, is highly significant. Based on his ratings system, I would probably give it one star out of two.)
The most important aspects of this film, as far as I’m concerned, have to do with what the movie says about men in general. The first thing you see (in the unrated version, anyway) is Carell’s hardon pitching a tent in his boxer shorts. Done for laughs, certainly, but men have always joked about morning wood. Beyond that, it’s a fact of life. A man has erections when he dreams, whether the dreams are erotic or not. When he wakes up in the middle of a dream, there it is. How interesting it is that Carell’s character, fully aware of his sprouting morning glory, simply isn’t interested in taking care of it. Again, imagine that: a man who desires to use his sex organs solely with a woman in whom he is genuinely interested. Huh. And no woman needed to tell him that. Huh times ten.
You are slowly introduced to a man who expresses, most of it unspoken, a desire to hang out with the guys, to be accepted. He does what most men do who find themselves comfortably ensconced in a decent job: He puts the desire for camaraderie away until an appropriate excuse comes along. The excuse is a poker game with the other three main characters, which gets the ball rolling on their mistaken ideas about how to help him lose his virginity, but also leads to solid friendships.
After the revelation, Carell is subjected to their seemingly unrelenting friendship. The store mooner shows up with a box load of old porn and refuses to take it back. He engages in the typical straight-boy teasing, walking out of the apartment after dumping the box there, exclaiming loud enough for the neighbors, “Andy for the last time, I don’t want your giant box of pornography!” The relentless teasing and joshing doesn’t end there.
It doesn’t even begin there. Early on in the film, two salesmen at the store engage in a brutal verbal confrontation, calling each other nasty, dirty names before a sudden brotherly embrace. This is standard operating procedure for straight men. It is not something normally understood by women or even by gay men. My own record in this regard is poor at best. There have been numerous times in my life where this sort of joking around was taken the wrong way due to my overly sensitive nature and the confusing ways in which I was genuinely picked on from time to time. To sum up for the uninitiated, when this sort of teasing takes place, what the straight boy is actually saying is, “Hi, my name’s _____ and I want to get to know you better.” Maybe he’s saying it because there’s nobody else around to relate to (like when Carell’s character is invited to play cards), or maybe it’s because he’s genuinely intrigued by your personality. Either way, no offense is ever intended.
That goes double for the part of the film that seems to disparage gay men. Two of these guys get into a conversation where they try to assert the other guy’s alleged homosexuality:
“Okay. You wanna know how I know you’re gay?”
“How am I gay?”
“You’ve seen ‘Rent’ three times.”
“You know, appreciating music and dance and doing guys in the ass is not the same thing, I just wanted you to know that.”
“Yeah, but all three of those things comprise the musical ‘Rent’.”
What a hardcore, committed gay activist will never understand is that for the majority of modern-day straight men, it will never be otherwise when they know they are amongst their own kind. It has nothing to do with “homophobia” (a made-up political term) or what I would call anti-gay sentiment. It has everything to do with cutting down another man’s facade purely for sport, and only because it is understood that if offense is actually taken, these men know full well that the initiator of the exchange will then say, “Geez, dude! I was only kidding!”
This is why feminism will never achieve equality: They demanded entry into a male-dominated workforce that was created, designed, maintained, debated, defended, embraced, and enjoyed by men. Since the vast majority of men are straight, this is how many of them act around each other. (The main female employee at the store, played by another of Christopher Guest’s alumni, the fantastically funny Jane Lynch, gets it, and simply shrugs it all off.) Believe it or not, gay guys in close confidence have their own version of this sort of conversation. Peruse some of my articles at “Strike The Root” to see the difference between writing for a general audience and writing specifically for men at “A Voice for Rapists Men”. Not nearly as much locker room language at the former, much more sex-neutral website. So these women finally get their coveted-yet-lame jobs in the American workforce, and lo and behold, they discover that men behave differently at work:
“Yo, jerk-off, when’s this shipment due?”
“Yeah, kiss my ass, buddy… Hey, we still going out for drinks?”
I can’t speak for women, but I get the idea that they do not wish to be spoken to in this manner, not even in the exclusive company of other women. So now the workplace has to change. At the point of a gun:
“Hey, honey, what’s shakin’? How’s Jeff?”
“How dare you call me ‘honey’! Shame on you!”
“Geez, lady! I was only kidding!”
This is how men are, and that’s not going to change. You can’t change it with laws, shame, demonization, sexual boycotts, threats, intimidation, indoctrination from inferior films like “American Pie,” or anything else. You can get men to suppress it in the workplace, but once they’re in the locker room, it’s “Screw you, man!” This movie is basically showing you how men are when they get to be men with each other. Warts and all. Mistaken ideas and whatnot. It may not be much. It may not come close to what Bowman laments the loss of. But it’s sure as helluva a lot better than “American Pie” and its gross misrepresentations of manhood and sexuality. It’s also very funny.
And there’s life in it. When a man is able to express himself openly and be accepted, he grows a full inch taller. When a man can platonically embrace a relationship with a man who’s different, he learns valuable things. When a man is accepted by an attractive woman for exactly who he is, he’s ecstatic. When he ejaculates, he’s finished. For a while. Then the cycle of life-giving, life-creating, and life-affirming inherent in a man’s body and mind starts again, oftentimes with morning wood. Any movie that understands this about manhood gets my vote. Even when it jokes about sex with horses.
B.R. Merrick writes for “Strike The Root“ and “A Voice for Men,” lives in the Northeast, is proud to be a classical music reviewer at Amazon.com and iTunes, and in spite of the poisonous nature of television, God Himself will have to pry his DVDs of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” out of his cold, dead hands, under threat of eternal damnation.