The 40 Year Old Virgin

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... 

The 40 Year Old Virgin: The Archive

This is another one where some interesting questions were cut from the checklist in the course of updating it from version 5 to version 6, so I've included those below... 
Are unrealistic genre-specific elements a big metaphor for a more common experience (not how life really is, but how life really feels)? 
Yes, every man feels like he doesn’t get enough sex, but this is an extreme example.  Likewise the waxing scene, etc, are examples of common anxieties made huge.  Flying through the billboard at the end symbolizes sex and a breakthrough.
Are set-up and pay-off used to dazzle the audience (and maybe distract attention from plot contrivances)?
Yes, her “Sell Your Stuff on Ebay” store is established as a joke, so we don’t figure out that this will eventually be the solution to his problem.  (Although, as with almost everything else, this wasn’t in the original script, and they just worked it in after they saw that their exterior story location really did have such a store across the street!)

Rulebook Casefile: Assembling Gut, Heart, and Head in The 40 Year Old Virgin

Like Dorothy Gale, Carrie, Dr. House and Hannah Horvath, Andy in The 40 Year Old Virgin is a three-dimensional character with one-dimensional advisors who roughly correspond to Gut, Heart, and Head. In this case:
  • Jay (Romany Malco) is a classic Gut character, advising Andy to be animalistic, “All you doing is using your instinct. That's it. Tackle the gazelle.”
  • David (Paul Rudd) is all-Heart, still hung up on an old relationship and constantly imploring Andy to pursue old-fashioned romance.
  • Cal (Seth Rogen) as Head is the least obvious of these three, but, like many Head characters, he is both a would-be novelist (this is more clear in the extended version) and the Jewish member of the group. His advice is all about head-games, employing a strategic “ask questions” method.
This movie’s unique premise sends Andy on a coming-of-age journey at 40 years old, belatedly going from a proto-person to a fully-realized adult, so we get to see him build his adult persona from the ground up, first trying Jay’s method (picking up Leslie Mann), then David’s (Attempting and failing to call Trish), then Cal’s (hitting on the bookstore girl).

It’s only after he’s tried each version on its own and found each one wanting that he realizes that he has to integrate them into one method, and thereby integrate himself into a whole three-dimensional person, surpassing each of his former mentors.

In the commentary, Apatow cheerily points out that, though he and Carrel are the only credited writers, almost every scene in the finished movie was not in the original script, and instead came from jokes pitched by various actors in the movie, and even by some who aren’t in the movie. For instance, he keeps crediting gags to, of all people, Garry Shandling, One of Shandling’s suggestion was, “Once the virgin has sex, it has to be better than all the other guys’ sex”: This led to the wonderful finale in which Andy can only describe his deflowering by leading a jubilant performance of “Age of Aquarius”.

Shandling’s point, it seems to me, is that Andy has combined his friends’ incomplete parts into one whole, and achieved a level of fully-human experience that is denied to them.

Storyteller’s Rulebook: Use Visual Metaphors, Not Verbal Similes

Symbolism is tricky. If you’re too vague, then it’s meaningless, but if you hit the nail too firmly on the head, then you might incur eye-rolling, which knocks the audience out of the movie. As with many other aspects of filmmaking, it works best when the meaning is so implicit in the visual that it doesn’t need to get called out verbally.

The 40 Year Old Virgin has several great examples of implicit visual metaphors:
  • When Andy goes home with his first one-night-stand, she weaves all over the road at high speed, symbolizing his own feeling that he’s losing control and going too fast. This ends in a wreck, literally and figuratively.
  • After the trans-prostitute incident, Andy finally rejects the advice of the guys and storms out to cross the street and ask Trish out. As he does so, he walks through traffic as cars zip by him on all sides, symbolizing both the riskiness of his action and his newfound implacability.
  • Early on, Andy tries to avoid looking at a bus with a sexy cologne ad on it, but in the end he flies off his bike and right into a moving-billboard version of the same ad, crashing through to the other side, where he lands in front of Trish and finally admits the truth.
But it also has one example that gets a little too pointed: When David advises Andy to masturbate, he reaches for one of Andy’s still-in-the-box action figures...
  • You’re like one of these action figures...all hermetically sealed in your box. I’m just saying, let it out. Give it some air, man. Play with it.
That’s not terrible, but it’s a little grating to the ear. It’s would have been much better if they just cut out the first sentence. As a general rule, explicit verbal similes should always be avoided in movie dialogue, in favor of implicit visual metaphors. Let us make the connection.

Rulebook Casefile: The Way the World Works (and Doesn’t) in The 40 Year Virgin

My pick for America’s most underrated movie critic is John Powers, who’s occasionally featured on the NPR show “Fresh Air”, where his rising-in-pitch exasperation with modern movies is a consistent delight. One of my favorite golden-oldies was his withering criticism of You’ve Got Mail, the lame remake of The Shop Around the Corner. Powers complained the new version had to be about a shop owner, rather than mere shop employees: “Of course not: then they’d be losers!”

I think of that line often when I see movie after movie about that mythic beast: the small business owner. So you can understand how happy I was to see a movie about everyday shop employees, in which that wasn’t seen as a shameful occupation.

Why is Hollywood so afraid of people who work retail? Obviously, the biggest reason is that this is a common social attitude. If you’re at a party, you’re fine as long as you say, “I have a start-up” (even if it’s a pipe dream that will never make a cent) or “I’m in graduate school” (even if it’s plunging you into a lifetime of debt for a worthless degree) but heaven forbid you say you work retail (which actually brings money in instead of blowing it out.) Even I tend to reflexively pity that answer, thought I quickly upbraid myself.

In movies and TV everybody must either have or aspire to have their own small business, as if that’s a wise goal in the modern economy. Only losers put up with the indignity of a stable income.

So I loved The 40 Year Old Virgin right up until the end when it turns out that, of course, Andy dreams of starting his own stereo store, and, lucky him, makes a half-million dollars to get started by selling his action figures. It didn’t have to be that way. Over the course of the movie, as Andy gains in confidence, he quietly works his way up from the stockroom to the sales floor to store management. Managing a chain store is actually a much better gig than starting your own, especially if you have a brand-new family, but that’s not the Cowboy Way, and every movie hero must be a cowboy in the end.

This is one of the things I greatly admired about Bridesmaids (which was also produced by Apatow): The backstory is that Annie wrecked her life by following her dream and opening her own bakery. That’s the way the world works, but it takes a lot of courage for a Hollywood movie to admit it.

Nevertheless, The 40 Year Old Virgin gets a tremendous amount of credit from me for offering a rare portrayal of content middle-income Americans for most of its running time.

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.

Straying From the Party Line: Gentle Scenework in “The 40 Year Old Virgin”

A while ago, I proposed the idea of the “five levels of scenework”, from weakest to strongest. In the comments on this non-post, commenter “A.D.” floated the possibility that comedies tend to score lower on the scale. Once again, here’s the scale
  1. The Listen-and-Accept Scene: Two characters listen to each other and accept each other’s information. They may be surprised or upset, but they don’t reject what they’re hearing as untrue. There’s no conflict, nobody does anything they didn’t intend to do, and nobody is clever.
  2. The Listen-and-Dispute Scene: Two characters tell each other things, but one or both of them rejects the other’s statement, so they argue, and then leave. There’s conflict, but nobody does anything they didn’t intend to do and nobody is clever.
  3. The Extract-Information-or-Action-Directly Scene: Same as above, but one of them directly convinces the other that they’re wrong and gets the other one to give them what they want. There’s conflict and one person does something they didn’t intend to do, but nobody is clever.
  4. The Extract-Information-or-Action-Through-Tricks-And-Traps Scene: Same as above, but one of them tricks or traps the other one into giving up something unintentionally. There’s conflict, one person does something they didn’t intend to do, and one person is clever.
  5. The Both-Try-to-Trick-Each-Other Scene: This is as tricky as it gets. There’s conflict, at least one character does something they didn’t intend to do, and both are clever. 
So let’s evaluate every dialogue scene in The 40 Year Old Virgin on this scale:
As Andy leaves his apartment with his bike, the retired black couple on their porch upstairs teases that he should get a car.
1: They have a friendly conversation (but we hear that they think he’s a loser)
Andy and Cal chat about their weekend: Cal saw a donkey sex show, Andy made an egg salad sandwich.
1: They have a friendly conversation (but we see that Cal thinks he’s a loser)
Cal, David and Jay debate asking Andy to their poker game. They ask him to play that night in the store in store. 
1: They talk themselves into asking him, he’s happy to do it. 
At the poker game, Andy cleans up, but when the talk turns to sex stories, the others realize that he’s a virgin. 
5 He tries to deceive them, but they trap him into admitting that he’s a virgin. 
Everybody at work wants to talk about it.
2: They all mock him, he accepts it, until he rejects it.
Andy flees.  David chases him, corners him, convinces Andy to come to a coffee shop and talk it over…
3: David finally convinces Andy to come to a coffee shop.
In the coffee shop, David asks how this could have not happened.  Andy agrees to go out with them.
3: David finally convinces Andy to come out with them.
They get ready to go out.  His shirt is too yellow.
2: They disagree about his shirt choice, but agree to disagree.
At the club.  Jay tells him that he has to hook up with drunk bitches.  They join a wedding party. Andy meets a frisky girl who grabs his pants and then kisses him.
1: They flirt and they’re both into it.
They drive away.  She’s drunk.  They wreck.  She throws up on him. “I’ll still have sex with you, if you want.”
3/5: He implores her to drive better, she tries to trick him affirming her insecurities in various ways.
He tells the guys about it the next day as they smash florescent bulbs.  Jay tells him he’s putting the pussy on a pedestal.  Andy won’t say pussy anymore.  You said you wouldn’t pressure.
2: They implore him to stay at it, but he rejects that advice.
Andy is told to sell to Trish. She works at the “we sell your stuff on eBay store.”
4: She traps him into accepting her number. 
He gets waxed. 
2: They directly goad him into doing it, he finally rejects the whole thing.
He and Cal take out a TV.  Cal tells him that he has to just ask questions.
1: He briefly rejects, then accepts the advice. 
Andy hits on Elizabeth Banks by just asking questions.  It works well.  Cal tells him to follow up later. 
4: He lures her in using a trick.
David brings over his box of porn, suggests masturbation.
2: Andy rejects David’s advice.
At work, they invite him out to lunch.  “We brought you a shirt.”
2: He resists them but caves.
They arrive at Date-a-Palooza. Andy tries the ask questions method again.
5: He tries to use his questions trick again and fails.  Various people lay various traps for each other.
Jay’s girlfriend Jill comes in, she found his speed-dating card. Andy picks on Jay’s hint and convinces Jill that it’s his. Later, Andy is sent out on the floor, but won’t talk to any women, so they all agree to a new plan.
5: Andy and Jill are trying to trick each other.  He succeeds.  The others agree to lay a trap for Andy.
Andy shows up for the party.  It’s just a transvestite prostitute.
4: Andy is tricked into it, sees through it instantly and leaves.
They all sit around watching Jason Bourne.  Andy tells them that’s it.  
4: He traps them into no longer setting him up by threatening to let the boss know they’re stealing CDs.
Andy goes across the street to hit on Trish.  “Do you wanna go out sometime?”
1: He asks, she accepts. 
Andy calls Trish and arranges a date.
1: He asks, she accepts.
Cal and David are at his house. They say that the action figures might be a problem.
3: They confront him and force him to change his behavior.
Trish knocks at the door.  His apartment is empty.  “I’m having new carpet put in tomorrow.”
4: He tricks her out of investigating.
Andy and Trish are at Benihana. She has them sing Happy Birthday for Andy.  She kisses him on the cheek. 
4: She lures him into relaxing having a good time with the birthday song.
That night, they’re fooling around.  He doesn’t know how to put on a condom, which means that he goes through a whole pile. Trish’s daughter Marla and a boyfriend come in, see the pile of discarded condoms and says, “Dude, teach me.”
1: Just a big misunderstanding.  The arrival of the daughter keeps him from doing what he wanted to do, but nobody intentionally changes anybody else’s behavior.
Paula hits on him. He’s not interested.  He tells Cal and Jay that Trish has a kid. “You don’t want any baby-daddy drama.”
2: He rejects her pass, they reject his defense of Trish.
They eat at a nice restaurant.  She reveals she’s actually a grandmother. They agree to 20 dates without sex.
4: He tricks her into extending the number of sexless dates.
They’re making out when her daughters Marla and Julia come in.  He uses magic on Julia, rips off her hear.  Marla rolls her eyes.
4: He literally uses (magic) tricks to win Julia over, and even Marla to a certain extent. 
Andy calls Cal and says she’s a grandmother.
1: Peaceable exchange of info.
Paula tells him that he’s being promoted to floor manager.  “The doors always open, so to speak. I’m very discreet.  But I’ll haunt your dreams.”
1: Peaceable exchange of info.
Jay talks to Kevin Hart, who wants a  “brother discount.” Andy is sent in to break it up.
3: Andy makes Hart back down.
Andy talks to Jay in the back room.  Jill broke up with him. “Why’d you cheat on her?” “Because I’m insecure, you can’t tell?”
3: I guess technically Andy gets Jay to do something he didn’t want to do (confess insecurity), but it took no effort.
Andy and Trish talk. He admits that he’s thinking about starting his own stereo store. 
1: Peaceable exchange of info.
Andy is called in to help Trish: Marla wants permission to have sex and she’s locked herself in the bathroom:
3: All three confront each other until Andy coaxes Marla out.
Andy takes Marla to a sex clinic.  Marla is made fun of for being a virgin.  Andy sticks up for her by telling them that he’s a virgin too.
4: Andy feels trapped into admitting that he’s a virgin by the group.
Marla drives him home.  “I made that all up.” “Uh, no you didn’t.”
3: She confronts him and forces him to re-affirm it.
Jay shows off his ultrasound video.
2: They deny his claims about his fetus’s penis size.
Trish and Andy finish selling his stuff.  It’s the 20th date.  Andy still refuses sex and they fight.
2: Each disputes the other, but neither changes his/her mind.
Jay and Jill’s party. Andy drinks.  He runs into the bookstore girl who invites him to her place.  “Hope you have a big trunk, because I’m putting my bike in it.
1: Peaceable exchange of info.
Marla comes home to Trish and finds out they had a big fight.  She convinces her mom to seek Andy out. 
3: She confronts her mom about making this work.
Andy and bookstore girl undress in her bedroom.
1: Peaceable exchange of info.
In the bathroom, bookstore girl pretends to whip him with a belt. “Wow, this is awkward.”
1: Peaceable exchange of info.
Andy leaves the bathroom.  The guys are there in the apartment. They convince him to go make it work with Trish.  Cal stays. 
3: They confront him and convince him to leave.
Andy arrives home.  Trish is there. She’s freaked out about the box of porn.  She runs out. 
2: They each dispute what the other has to say, neither is convinced.
He crashes into her car. He instantly confesses that he’s a virgin. 
1: Peaceable exchange of info.
They get married under a gazebo.
1: Peaceable exchange of info.
They go to consummate at the hotel.  A guy is buffing the floor. Andy orders him out. They finally do it. One minute later title card.  Wanna do it again?  Two hours later title card. 
3: Andy convinces the buffer to leave.  She convinces Andy to try it again.

So wow, A.D. was onto something. That’s a lot of 1s and 2s in this movie and very few 4s and 5s. In fact, it’s pretty astounding how gentle this movie is. A lot of the conflict that you would expect to find just isn’t there.

For one thing, outside of the speed dating scene, nobody ever turns Andy down (and even there he bats over 500). The rejection that he’s expecting simply fails to materialize. You would expect that each of his friend’s advice would result in a failed pass, causing him to move on to the next one, but that doesn’t happen.
  • First, he tries Jay’s way (hit on drunk girls), and it works, but he backs out of the deal after she vomits on him (even though she then says “We can still have sex if you want”).
  • Then he tries Cal’s way (ask questions), and that works too, but he doesn’t follow up right away with the bookstore girl.
  • Then he tries what is essentially David’s way, pursuing a real relationship with Trish, and that works too. (Although, as with the previous two, he eventually gets scared off.) In the end, he has a smorgasbord awaiting him of three successful methods.
This is a movie in which the hero is his own worst enemy, and that’s fine, but it’s weird that that’s really the only source of antagonism that he encounters. Trish’s daughter Marla briefly shows some antagonism, but Andy doesn’t have to work very hard to win her over as well.

So why isn’t this more of a problem? Apatow does the remarkable: he gets us to laugh at a gentle world without any hard edges. We’re mostly laughing with and rarely laughing at. Even the biggest “laughing at” scene, the chest waxing, is notable for its benevolence. The traditional way to do this would be to amp up the harshness, so that we identify only with Andy and share his isolated suffering, but the three guys and even the waxer herself are wincing in pain for Andy with every pull. Even when the waxer finally starts giggling as she winces, it seems like she’s laughing with Andy’s imaginative swears, not at them.

Mel Brooks famously said, “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die,” but that’s not Apatow’s philosophy. Instead, he gets us to say “I want to be there. I want to hang out with those guys. I wish those were my friends.” There’s still pain, awkwardness and humiliation, but never cruelty.  He isn’t cruel to his own characters and they’re never cruel to each other.  It turns out that you can be good at humor and still be good humored.

The Ultimate Story Checklist: The 40 Year Old Virgin

Updated to the sixth and final checklist!
Andy (Steve Carell), a stock-boy at a stereo store, is reluctantly asked to play poker with his coworkers Cal (Seth Rogen), David (Paul Rudd), and Jay (Romany Malco), who discover that he’s a 40 year-old virgin. They vow to get him laid, first by a club girl (Leslie Mann), then by a bookstore girl (Elizabeth Banks) but he pursues a romance with an older woman (Catherine Keener) who works across the street. They begin dating, and he wins over her daughter Marla (Kat Denning), but when she encourages him to sell off his action figure collection he flees, almost hooks up with the bookstore girl instead, but goes back to Keener and admits he’s a virgin. They get married and finally have sex.

PART #1: CONCEPT 18/19
The Pitch: Does this concept excite everyone who hears about it?
Is the one sentence description uniquely appealing?
 A 40 year old virgin makes new friends who try to finally get him laid.
Does the concept contain an intriguing ironic contradiction?
 A handsome 40 year old man is a virgin.
Is this a story anyone can identify with, projected onto a bigger canvas, with higher stakes?
 Every man has felt like he’ll never get laid, and this is his ultimate nightmare…and ultimate fantasy, because everybody wants three perfect wingmen.
Story Fundamentals: Will this concept generate a strong story?
Is the concept simple enough to spend more time on character than plot?
 Very much so.
Is there one character that the audience will choose to be their “hero”?
Does the story follow the progress of the hero’s problem, not the hero’s daily life? 
 Well, his whole life is a problem, but yes.  There’s not a lot of waking up and falling asleep.
Does the story present a unique relationship?
 Yes, several.
Is at least one actual human being opposed to what the hero is doing?
 Not really, and that’s fine.  He’s his own antagonist.  (Almost every woman he meets is actually willing to have sex with him: Mann, his boss, the bookstore girl, Keener, the transvestite prostitute)  A little bit with Kat Denning, but even she joins team Andy quickly.
Does this challenge represent the hero’s greatest hope and/or greatest fear and/or an ironic answer to the hero’s question?
 Greatest hope: get laid, greatest fear: have to hit on women. And it’s ironic that the fear leads to his hope.
Does something inside the hero have a particularly volatile reaction to the challenge?
 Very much so.
Does this challenge become something that is the not just hard for the hero to do (an obstacle) but hard for the hero to want to do (a conflict)?
 Very much so.
In the end, is the hero the only one who can solve the problem?
 Yes and no.  Sometimes it feels like everyone wants to help him more than he wants to help himself, but he does have to work really hard.  Of course there’s sort of a shadow-story going one where he helps and supercedes everybody else (he ends up everybody’s boss)
Does the hero permanently transform the situation and vice versa?
The Hook: Will this be marketable and generate word of mouth?
Does the story satisfy the basic human urges that get people to buy and recommend this genre?
 Yes, it’s funny and raunchy.
Does this story show us at least one image we haven’t seen before (that can be used to promote the final product)?
 It’s interesting: not really, but they came up with an absolutely brilliant poster image  that somehow captured the concept
Is there at least one “Holy Crap!” scene (to create word of mouth)?
 Erection scenes, thrown up on, waxing, etc.
Does the story contain a surprise that is not obvious from the beginning?
 He falls for a grandmother.
Is the story marketable without revealing the surprise?
Is the conflict compelling and ironic both before and after the surprise?
 Yes.  Keener is old enough to feel like a more mature choice, but hot enough to (reluctantly) satisfy bro-comedy fans.
Believe: Do we recognize the hero as a human being?
Does the hero have a moment of humanity early on? (A funny, or kind, or oddball, or out-of-character, or comically vain, or unique-but-universal “I thought I was the only one who did that!” moment?)
 Unique-but-universal: erection
Is the hero defined by ongoing actions and attitudes, not by backstory?
 Yes, almost entirely.
Does the hero have a well-defined public identity?
 The boring creep who may be a serial killer.
Does the surface characterization ironically contrast with a hidden interior self?
 He’s a painfully shy virgin
Does the hero have a consistent metaphor family (drawn from his or her job, background, or developmental state)?
 Old school: “I’m a gentleman, don’t kiss and tell”, uses words like “accountrement”, inept profanity
Does the hero have a default personality trait?
 A downer, lame joker, laughs at own jokes, overly specific in his descriptions
Does the hero have a default argument tactic?
 Inept sarcasm
Is the hero’s primary motivation for tackling this challenge strong, simple, and revealed early on?
 Yes.  Desperate horniness and loneliness.
Care: Do we feel for the hero?
Does the hero start out with a shortsighted or wrongheaded philosophy (or accept a false piece of advice early on)?
 “I respect women.  I love women.  I respect them so much that I completely stay away from them!  I have a very fulfilling life!”
Does the hero have a false or shortsighted goal in the first half?
 Not really. He just wants to never change.
Does the hero have an open fear or anxiety about his or her future, as well as a hidden, private fear?
 That his secret will be found out. That there’s something really wrong with him.
Is the hero physically and emotionally vulnerable?
 Very much so.
Does the hero have at least one untenable great flaw we empathize with? (but…)
 He’s shy.
Invest: Can we trust the hero to tackle this challenge?
…Is that great flaw (ironically) the natural flip-side of a great strength we admire?
 He’s kind.
Is the hero curious?
 Somewhat.  He becomes a dedicated student of what they’re trying to teach him.
Is the hero generally resourceful?
 Not really.
Does the hero have rules he or she lives by (either stated or implied)?
 Keep your head down, avoid conflict, avoid women.
Is the hero surrounded by people who sorely lack his or her most valuable quality?
 Yes, the other characters all seem sleazy by comparison.  Even Trish is much coarser than he.
…And is the hero willing to let them know that, subtly or directly?
 Yes. “I’m tired of saying the word ‘pussy’!”
Is the hero already doing something active when we first meet him or her?
 Sort of: He bicycles to work.
Does the hero have (or claim) decision-making authority?
 Yes and no: He has none at the beginning, but slowly begins to claim it.  He’s the boss of all the other guys by the end of the movie.
Does the hero use pre-established special skills from his or her past to solve problems (rather than doing what anybody would do)?
 Just barely: he uses his sleight-of-hand abilities to win over Trish’s daughter.  He uses his online-poker skills to make friends with the guys.
PART #3: STRUCTURE (If the story is about the solving of a large problem) 18/21
1st Quarter: Is the challenge laid out in the first quarter?
When the story begins, is the hero becoming increasingly irritated about his or her longstanding social problem (while still in denial about an internal flaw)?
 Yes, he has a permanent erection.  His coworkers find him boring.  He is asked to interact with a female customer and cannot.
Does this problem become undeniable due to a social humiliation at the beginning of the story?
 His coworkers find out that he’s a virgin.
Does the hero discover an intimidating opportunity to fix the problem?
 They offer to help him get laid.
Does the hero hesitate until the stakes are raised?
 He runs out of the store.
Does the hero commit to pursuing the opportunity by the end of the first quarter?
 He agrees to go out with them.
2nd Quarter: Does the hero try the easy way in the second quarter?
Does the hero’s pursuit of the opportunity quickly lead to an unforeseen conflict with another person?
 The first girl he meets is drunk, endangers him, and throws up on him.
Does the hero try the easy way throughout the second quarter?
 He avoids calling Trish, takes all of the guys’ advice, even though it’s contradictory.
Does the hero have a little fun and get excited about the possibility of success?
 To a certain extent. He finds that it’s easy and fun to hit on Elizabeth Banks.
Does the easy way lead to a big crash around the midpoint, resulting in the loss of a safe space and/or sheltering relationship?
 It’s a very weak midpoint disaster, they set him up with a transsexual prostitute, and he decides to give up on their advice altogether.
3rd Quarter: Does the hero try the hard way in the third quarter?
Does the hero try the hard way from this point on?
 Yes, he pursues a relationship with Trish.
Does the hero find out who his or her real friends and real enemies are?
 Yes.  He realizes that he’s his own worst enemy
Do the stakes, pace, and motivation all escalate at this point?
 To a certain extent.  The third quarter is a little limp, ironically enough.
Does the hero learn from mistakes in a painful way?
 Yes.  His conversation with Marla, for example
Does a further setback lead to a spiritual crisis?
 Yes, when Trish jumps his bones on the 20th date on a pile of his boxed up toys, he denounces her and flees.
4th Quarter: Does the challenge climax in the fourth quarter?
Does the hero adopt a corrected philosophy after the spiritual crisis?
 No, he retreats to his previous personality flaw.
After that crisis, does the hero finally commit to pursuing a corrected goal, which still seems far away?
 No, he retreats to his previous goal and tries to get laid by a drunk girl.
Before the final quarter of the story begins, (if not long before) has your hero switched to being proactive, instead of reactive?
 Yes, but proactive in a negative way until the last ten minutes.
Despite these proactive steps, is the timeline unexpectedly moved up, forcing the hero to improvise for the finale?
 Somewhat: Running back into Banks and getting the chance to have sex with her almost ruins his relationship with Trish.  This is a followed by another escalation that feels very false, in which Trish is bafflingly troubled to discover pornography in his house.  Surely it would make more sense if she had found out about Banks instead?? (True conflict is always better than a misunderstanding!)
Do all strands of the story and most of the characters come together for the climactic confrontation?
 Somewhat.  The guys improbably show up at Elizabeth Banks’ house, and send him off to go find Trish.  So Trish never meets the guys, but it all feels like one big finale.
Does the hero’s inner struggle climax shortly after (or possible at the same time as) his or her outer struggle?
 Yes, he flies through the billboard and admits the titular problem at the last possible minute.
Is there an epilogue/ aftermath/ denouement in which the challenge is finally resolved (or succumbed to), and we see how much the hero has changed (possibly through reversible behavior)
 Yes, he consummates at his wedding.  There’s even a nice moment where he kicks a floor waxer out of their suite, showing his newfound assertiveness.
PART #4: SCENEWORK 19/20 (Andy goes home with a drunk woman from a Bachelorette party)
The Set-Up: Does this scene begin with the essential elements it needs?
Were tense and/or hopeful (and usually false) expectations for this interaction established beforehand?
 She grabbed his pants and kissed him.  Then she made him blow into her breathalizer.
Does the scene eliminate small talk and repeated beats by cutting out the beginning (or possibly even the middle)?
 Yes, both the beginning and parts of the middle.
Is this an intimidating setting that keeps characters active?
 Yes, he’s in a car with a drunk driver.
Is one of the scene partners not planning to have this conversation (and quite possibly has something better to do)?
 No, they’re both planning on having this conversation.
Is there at least one non-plot element complicating the scene?
 The song she’s singing, her dancing, the contents of her vomit.  Really her whole drama, actually.
Does the scene establish its own mini-ticking-clock (if only through subconscious anticipation)?
 Surely she’s going to hit someone eventually.  Also she keeps almost throwing up.
The Conflict: Do the conflicts play out in a lively manner?
Does this scene both advance the plot and reveal character through emotional reactions?
 Just slightly on both.  It tells him that he’s doable, but it also confirms all of his other fears about picking up women. He’s humiliated.
Does the audience have (or develop) a rooting interest in this scene (which may sometimes shift)?
 At first we want him to have sex no matter what, but we gradually decide, along with him, that it’s not worth it.
Are two agendas genuinely clashing (rather than merely two personalities)?
 He wants to get laid, and so does she, but she really just wants to work out her anger at her friend and the guy she’s marrying.
Does the scene have both a surface conflict and a suppressed conflict (one of which is the primary conflict in this scene)?
 Surface conflict: Drive better / don’t tell me how to drive. Suppressed conflict: Are all women like you? Why are men all jerks?
Is the suppressed conflict (which may or may not come to the surface) implied through subtext (and/or called out by the other character)?
”Let me tell you something, Andy, don’t ever be named Dan.”
Are the characters cagy (or in denial) about their own feelings?
 He’s pretending to be comfortable, she’s pretending that she’s not furious at her friend and ex.
Do characters use verbal tricks and traps to get what they want, not just direct confrontation?
 He just tries to grab the wheel, but she tries to trap him into complimenting her.
Is there re-blocking, including literal push and pull between the scene partners (often resulting in just one touch)?
 Just one touch: she kisses him.
Are objects given or taken, representing larger values?
He blows into her breathalyzer, she throws up on him.
The Outcome: Does this scene change the story going forward?
As a result of this scene, does at least one of the scene partners end up doing something that he or she didn’t intend to do when the scene began?
 He turns her down.
Does the outcome of the scene ironically reverse (and/or ironically fulfill) the original intention?
 Yes, he turns her down.
Are previously-asked questions answered and new questions posed?
 Previously: Will he seal the deal? New: What will he tell the guys?
Does the scene cut out early, on a question (possibly to be answered instantly by the circumstances of the next scene)?
 It cuts out early, but on an answer, not a question.
Is the audience left with a growing hope and/or fear for what might happen next? (Not just in the next scene, but generally)
 We are increasingly fearful that he will never have sex.
Empathetic: Is the dialogue true to human nature?
Does the writing demonstrate empathy for all of the characters?
Does each of the characters, including the hero, have a limited perspective?
 Very much so.
Do the characters consciously and unconsciously prioritize their own wants, rather than the wants of others?
 Very much so.  Each man’s advice is hopelessly tainted by his own failings.
Are the characters resistant to openly admitting their feelings (to others and even to themselves)?
 Very much so.
Do the characters avoid saying things they wouldn’t say and doing things they wouldn’t do?
 Very much so.  The way in which his secret comes out is painful and realistic each time.
Do the characters interrupt each other often?
Specific: Is the dialogue specific to this world and each personality?
Does the dialogue capture the jargon and tradecraft of the profession and/or setting?
Are there additional characters with distinct metaphor families, default personality traits, and default argument strategies from the hero’s?
 Metaphor families: Jay: Street “Listen, you don’t want no baby-mama-drama.”  Cal and David, not so much.  One problem with the improvised dialogue is that these friends just talk like they do in real life, and sound very similar. Personality traits: Cal: laid back, David: friendly, lovelorn, Jay: salacious, oversharing, Argument strategies: Cal: defers but rolls his eyes and speaks up later, David: self-deprecating honest, Jay: Gets philosophical and emphatic (You’re putting the pussy on a pedestal) doesn’t take no for an answer.
Heightened: Is the dialogue more pointed and dynamic than real talk?
Is the dialogue more concise than real talk?
Does the dialogue have more personality than real talk?
Are there minimal commas in the dialogue (the lines are not prefaced with Yes, No, Well, Look, or the other character’s name)?
Do non-professor characters speak without dependent clauses, conditionals, or parallel construction?
 Yes.  Apatow’s reliance on improv gives the dialogue an astonishing degree of verisimilitude.
Are the non-3-dimensional characters impartially polarized into head, heart and gut?
 Yes, Cal: head (he’s a novelist), David: heart, Jay: Gut
Strategic: Are certain dialogue scenes withheld until necessary?
Does the hero have at least one big “I understand you” moment with a love interest or primary emotional partner?
Trish proposes waiting on sex.
Is exposition withheld until the hero and the audience are both demanding to know it?
 Yes. Info about Trish comes out slowly, for instance.
Is there one gutpunch scene, where the subtext falls away and the characters really lay into each other?
 Yes, a few.
Part #6: Tone 9/10
Genre: Does the story tap into pre-established expectations?
Is the story limited to one genre (or multiple genres that are merged from the beginning?)
 Yes, the romantic comedy / sex-comedy
Is the story limited to sub-genres that are compatible with each other, without mixing metaphors?
 Yes, it combines a very atypical coming-of-age story (in that the man coming of age is 40) with the rising genre of “bro-comedy”
Does the ending satisfy most of the expectations of the genre, and defy a few others?
 Yes, he gets laid, but in a very non-bro way: after marrying a grandma.
Separate from the genre, is a consistent mood (goofy, grim, ‘fairy tale’, etc.) established early and maintained throughout?
 Yes, good humor. Apatow is plenty dirty, but he distinguishes himself from Phillips and McCay by having a laid-back benevolent vibe.  My favorite example of this is the way the waxer winces and laughs in sympathy.  She neither ignores nor enjoys the pain.  Everybody feels real and gets to be as sympathetic as possible.
Framing: Does the story set, reset, upset and ultimately exceed its own expectations?
Is there a dramatic question posed early on, which will establish in the audience’s mind which moment will mark the end of the story?
 Very much so: When will he finally have sex. 
Does the story use framing devices to establish genre, mood and expectations?
Are there characters whose situations prefigure various fates that might await the hero?
 Yes. The three guys all represent various fates.
Does foreshadowing create anticipation and suspense (and refocus the audience’s attention on what’s important)?
 Not at all.  One problem with the improvisatory process is that they have no good idea where it’s going, so they can’t hint at it.  (No hint of her kids before they’re revealed, no hint of Jay’s girlfriend’s pregnancy, etc.)  On the DVD, they point out that the crew was baffled that the movie cut together, because they shot literally 1 million feet of film without much of a plan.
Are reversible behaviors used to foreshadow and then confirm change?
 Very much so: He watches “Survivor” with his neighbors every week and then misses it for the date, etc.
Is the dramatic question answered at the very end of the story?
 Yes.  The movie ends one minute after it’s answered.
PART 7: THEME 14/14
Difficult: Is the meaning of the story derived from a fundamental moral dilemma?
Can the overall theme be stated in the form of an irreconcilable good vs. good (or evil vs. evil) dilemma?
 Respect for women vs. need for sex, self-sufficiency vs. co-dependent love.
Is a thematic question asked out loud (or clearly implied) in the first half, and left open?
“I respect women.  I love women.  I respect them so much that I completely stay away from them! I have a very fulfilling life!” Later, about his action figures: “They lose their value when you take them out of the box!”
Do the characters consistently have to choose between goods, or between evils, instead of choosing between good and evil?
 Yes: Accept a drunk ride or lose out on chance to have sex, cover for a cheating friend, etc.
Grounded: Do the stakes ring true to the world of the audience?
Does the story reflect the way the world works?
 Very much so.  It’s so rare to see a movie about people who actually have jobs!
Does the story have something authentic to say about this type of setting (Is it based more on observations of this type of setting than ideas about it)?
 Yes.  This feels like a very real stereo store, including petty sales commission battles, etc.
Does the story include twinges of real life national pain?
 Just a little bit.  Their south Asian coworkers mention 9/11, etc.  Jay says “That’s my third strike!”  (They cut out that Cal was writing an Iraq war novel)
Are these issues and the overall dilemma addressed in a way that avoids moral hypocrisy?
Do all of the actions have real consequences?
 Yes, once you take gentle physics into account.
Subtle: Is the theme interwoven throughout so that it need not be discussed often?
Do many small details throughout subtly and/or ironically tie into the thematic dilemma?
 Yes: the action figures still in the boxes represent virginity, the bike represents immaturity, etc.
Are one or more objects representing larger ideas exchanged throughout the story, growing in meaning each time?
 Just a little bit: the action figures, the box of porn, though I don’t know if they grow in meaning
Untidy: Is the dilemma ultimately irresolvable?
Does the ending tip towards one side of the thematic dilemma without resolving it entirely?
 Respect for women and need for sex remain equally important, self-sufficiency is not as good as co-dependent love.
Does the story’s outcome ironically contrast with the initial goal?
 Yes, he finds sex but only by marrying a grandmother.
In the end, is the plot not entirely tidy (some small plot threads left unresolved, some answers left vague)?
 Yes, the other guys’ relationships remain vague.
Do the characters refuse (or fail) to synthesize the meaning of the story, forcing the audience to do that?
 Yes.  He never says what he learned.
Final Score: 113 out of 122