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What Would People Think?

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

On Sex Comedies

It should come as no surprise to the readers of this blog that I am not a fan of movies that could be referred to as "sex comedies." You know....the Animal House-inspired comedies that think any reference to a sexual organ = hilarious comedy. I outgrew that phase when I was 15. Generally, I rank sex comedies up with "horror" movies that are really just gore-fests without any scariness...both are genres that I really despise.

[It's not like I'm that picky, either. I like action movies, romantic comedies, indie flicks, documentaries, horror movies, Oscar bait, westerns, film noir, war movies....you name the genre, I can find a movie I like in that genre.]

And yet, last night, I found myself enjoying a sex comedy. What gives? Well, let us explore.

Exhibit A: 40 Days and 40 Nights. I'm sad to say this was the first movie I saw in theaters with Christy. My only excuse is that we were with a group of friends who meant to go bowling and the bowling alley was closed. 40 Days and 40 Nights stars Josh Hartnett as a sexaholic who tries to kick the habit by giving up sex for Lent. I laughed once during this movie (when Hartnett first comes up with the scheme, points at a statue of Jesus on the cross and says "Dude!"). The rest of the movie I spent grossed out and bored. The dialogue was lame. Nobody had any comic timing. The "romance" was robotic. Overall, this movie was the height of mediocrity, made worse by sex jokes that just made me feel icky.

Exhibit B: Scary Movie. I saw this movie for free. I overpaid. That's 88 minutes of my life that I will never have back. I also laughed once during this movie (when the first victim has a choice of weapons to grab to defend herself and she skips the guns and knives to grab a banana). I spent the rest of the movie wallowing in misery. A non-stop medley of penis jokes and sex jokes, combined with characters that I fully wanted to die....if only they would hurry up about it. This made 40 Days and 40 Nights look like Shakespeare. (Who, by the way, wasn't afraid of bawdy comedy himself.) In 40 days... I was grossed out and bored by the characters and story. In Scary Movie, I was even more grossed out and I hated the characters and story.

Exhibit C: The 40 Year Old Virgin. This is the movie I saw last night. I loved it. The pitch for this movie sounds horrible. Steve Carell (formerly of "The Daily Show") is a 40 year old guy who's never had sex. When his co-workers find out, they make it their mission to get the guy laid. This has all the makings of another crappy gross-out flick. Indeed, the movie has jokes about erections, scenes involving vomit, and characters who talk non-stop about sex. So what's different about it? Why did this movie make me laugh when 40 Days... made me bored and Scary Movie made me want to puke?

Well, first off, there's the characters. Carell's character, Andy, is actually a nice guy. He's likeable, but terrified of women. Unlike most sex comedy characters, he didn't repulse me. I found myself rooting for him (and, yes, I still believe sex should actually happen only within marriage). The supporting characters were the same. Characters like Andy's co-workers would normally be an excuse for lame sex jokes and gross-out humiliation. Indeed, they do load Andy down with a ton of bad advice. But they aren't jerks. They turn out to be generally likeable guys dealing with their own problems. (My favorite line, predictably, didn't involve sex. "Sorry I never really talked to you before, Andy. Before I knew you, I thought you were a serial killer." "Oh. Ha, ha." "No, seriously.") (Another great exchange for the heck of it. One of the girls Andy tries to have sex with: "You have really kind eyes, you know that?" Andy: (nervously) "Thanks. Um....your hat has sequins.")

Second, in addition to non-stop profanity and sex talk, this movie has genuinely sweet romance. Andy's relationship with Catherine Keener's character involves an actual meeting of minds, not genitalia. They are nice, get along well, encourage each other.....it feels like an actual relationship of nice people who grow to love each other. What's that doing in a movie titled The 40 Year Old Virgin?

Finally, the gross-out situations are....well, earned. It's hard to explain. Because I liked the characters, I felt some sympathy embarrassment. But it's more than that. This movie didn't think the presence of vomit or sex organs was itself humorous. The jokes came in the midst of situations that were funny in their own right. This wasn't lazy comedy.

So.....to have a sex comedy that is actually enjoyable you need (1) likeable characters, (2) actual relationships, and (3) comedy that doesn't rely on gross-outs to carry the humor. To date, I can only think of one other sex comedy that has done this as well as The 40 Year Old Virgin. That would be There's Something About Mary. Maybe others exist out there. Since I generally avoid this genre like the plague, I'm in no position to tell.

Any suggestions?


  • I'll give it some thought when I'm not in class, but yes, 40 Year Old Virgin is a brilliant comedy. Also, I love the fact that the sex actually waits until marriage. It's completely held out like Andy succeeds in living up to the standard which most people aspire to. And that's cool.

    Plus, "There were two sides to the billboard, and they both hurt equally."

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 3/15/2006 12:23 PM  

  • How about the Kevin Smith movies, such as Clerks or Chasing Amy? They're not exactly sex comedies, but they're close. And they're funny.

    Also, despite some weak moments, I enjoyed both Road Trip and Eurotrip; though not nearly as much as I enjoy The 40-Year-Old Virgin.

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 3/16/2006 1:41 AM  

  • Yeah, "40-Year-Old Virgin" was the best sex comedy since "American Pie", which in turn was probably the best sex comedy since "Animal House".

    Ben, your action movie link should have been "Die Hard", and your rom-com "Say Anything" -- not that your choices aren't adequate, mine are just better.

    Personally, I enjoy a good sex comedy in that immediate, "it's Friday night", "I want to laugh my ass off at a movie I can quote for the next 24 hours to my friends' amusement and then completely forget about" way. Still, "40 Days" was horrible, and "Scary Movie" was actually quite good during the parody portions (particularly the "Usual Suspects" at the end) -- it just sucked during the rest, which was about 84 of the 88 minutes.

    As mentioned above, "American Pie" is a sex comedy that worked. In many ways, in fact, it's similar to "40-Year Old Virgin". Then there's "Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle", which, for all its gross-out bits, also contains some good satirical elements.

    Kevin Smith is also a great recommendation, of course, though hardly sex comedies.

    By Blogger Mike, at 3/16/2006 10:22 AM  

  • I recently discovered that Judd Apatow, writer/director of 40-year-old Virgin is working on a sequel of sorts, called Knocked Up. It's gonna feature Seth Rogan (Cal) and Paul Rudd (Dave). Rumor has it it's probably gonna be more crass, and I somehow doubt it'll have the same level of sweetness that Virgin had, but hopefully it'll still be awesome.

    Also, for the record, I didn't see many movies this past year, and none of the Oscar nominated ones, but of the films I did see, Virgin was easily Best Picture. The Academy needs to start recognizing comedy.

    By Blogger Matthew B. Novak, at 3/18/2006 2:43 AM  

  • As much as I hated 40 days and think it is ironic that it was our first movie since neither of us are like that. I think it is even more ironic that the first time we ever held hands was right before the movie and through out the movie (except when it got really perverted) I kept thinking I want him to hold my hand again.

    By Blogger Christy, at 4/04/2006 2:11 AM  

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