I saw this movie a while ago, when it was still out in the theaters - I usually laugh at the "frat-pack" flicks (anything starring Vince Vaughn, Owen or Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell and now Steve Carell). I thought about it recently when I saw a preview for "The Break-Up" and considered checking it out, just as I did "The 40 Year Old Virgin", as complete escapist enjoyment. But was "The 40 Year Old Virgin" really worth it, or better yet, was it really an escape? So instead of wasting more money on a movie, telling myself I would critically analyze it for our blog to justify it - here are some thoughts on Carell's first starring role, and the "frat pack" phenomenon:
Carell, Ferrell, Vaughn, the Wilsons and their cohorts are taking over as representatives and enforcers of what manhood should look like for white, wealthy, twenty-something men. It's smart, witty, economically secure but ultimately bored with "adultness", and nihilist. Carell's character for example collects action figures, enjoys acting as young boys are generally permitted to and exists in a state of severe sexual anxiety. And his closest male friends are openly homophobic (the most upsetting aspect of the movie for me- the gay-bashing was so prevalent that it even felt unrealistic). There is a part of me that identified with Carell's character in this movie - I feel a sense of freedom when I think of my fantasies as a boy and for a long time was really scared of physical intimacy. When his character finally meets Trish (played by Catherine Keener) and really cares about her, instead of admiting his fear of incompetence in bed, he suggests that they spend time really getting to know one another. This was a fairly nice portrayal of what real intimacy can look like - something few of us know because intimacy is so often confused with a physical act. It was then disappointing when their relationship was only able to move forward by the physical act of heterosexual sex.
This is where the nihilism comes in - these guys aren't interested in making movies that teach us something about life, or art that challenges us. They don't care - they exploit the stress and anxieties of some of us to make us laugh at oursleves. But somewhere we all know that real relationships are work - they are complex and if we want to grow from them they are much more than physical connection. Now I like humor as much as anyone else - but I need to start asking myself the next time I'm looking for an escape with a "frat-pack" laugh - would I still be laughing if I was comfortable with myself? Does the "frat-pack" represent a group of guys that I want to impress by laughing at their jokes? Are they insulting me as much as anyone else with their white, entitled, cyncial humor? Or better yet, when the men we work with, or friends talk about these movies we can try to answer these questions, and others, together.