Virgins and Lesbians – A Serious Discussion

By: E · March 17, 2009

Having been sick for most of the past week, I engaged in a lot of mini movie-marathons with no real logic or structure. It was pretty much me watching whatever movie I picked off of my shelf that I hadn’t seen in a while. And inadvertently, I watched 40 Year Old Virgin and Chasing Amy back to back, and found an interesting dialogue about sexual history coming to surface when viewing them one after the other.

On the one hand, 40YOV follows Andy, the (duh) 40 year old virgin whose lack of sexual history leads him on a mission to slay this sexual dragon in his life, only leading to find love and acceptance in a woman who loves him, despite the fact that he lacks the sexual history that most people have by the time they reach, well, 20. On the other hand, Chasing Amy follows the story of Holden, a typical 20-something, falling in love and falling hard for Alyssa, a lesbian, who in the end loves him back. But because of her questionable sexual history with other men (specifically, two men at the same time), Holden can’t accept her, and their love crumbles. But both movies manage to use the actual act of sex between the two romantic leads as very much an act of love and acceptance amidst the landscape of promiscuity and meaningless hookups that both movies immerse themselves in. While in Virgin, Andy’s co-workers encourage, and engage in meaningless sexual activity with “drunk bitches,” Amy follows the story of the more open and perhaps myopic view (by Smith, at least) of the free wheeling NY gay scene of the late 1990’s, where physicality went hand in hand with being a member of the movement. Yet when Holden and Alyssa finally do sleep together, it’s an act of acceptance of both their mutual love, and also Alyssa’ s realization that she, as a lesbian, loves Holden not because he’s a man, but because he’s Holden. The same obvious notion happens in Virgin when Andy and Trish finally do have sex at the end of the movie, it’s the act of resolution to Andy’s problem through the means of solving his “problem,” while also confirming the notion that indeed, Trish loves Andy not because of anything regarding his sexual past, but because he’s Andy.

Where they differ stems largely from the perspective of the filmmakers of each of the films. While both may share an affinity for using racy humor and dick jokes to cloak the heart that beats in each of their works, Smith has long been the outspoken, fiery liberal voice, that gays should do whatever they want to, that sexuality isn’t a big deal, and that love can be rosy without being gooey. Apatow, as seen in his later works, is very much someone who cloaks his humor and heart beneath a more tempered message of tolerance, acceptance, and inclusion. Regardless of his thoughts on abortion (a debate he was unfairly placed at the center of when the movie came out), Knocked Up stands for the notion that you work with what you’re given in life, and that there’s something genuine about being there, about being a decent person, and that something real grows from the beginnings that others may never have seen potential in. Smith’s movies (ever since Dante in Clerks) are very much about getting your comeuppance for your very real, human flaws, that to put it simply, things don’t always work out that well even when everything’s laid out on the table.

It’s the concept of honesty where the two films diverge. In Virgin, Andy’s honesty is his release and foundation of his acceptance with Trish, whereas in Amy, Alyssa’s honesty (and later, Holden’s honesty in coming forward with his ridiculously misguided plan to solve it all) is their undoing. Apatow sees honesty as a virtue, Smith sees it as a light that can expose both virtue and flaw, and sometimes you can’t get past the things that the cruel light of day uncovers, or in some cases (as Holden sees), sometimes you realize that you don’t care a bit too late.

In the end, besides both movies being y’know, great (well…Chasing Amy has lost a bit of its lustre, it’s definitely looking dated now, but that’s for another entry), I was struck by how much it managed to balance this very realistic notion that sexuality is not a big deal, while making sex itself a big deal, whether we’re dealing with lesbians with a promiscuous past or a forty year old guy who’s never so much as gotten to third base with a girl in his life. Andy has to learn that sex is not that big a deal (as he’s told, to “stop putting the pussy on a pedestal”), while Alyssa and Holden (and by proxy, Banky) realize “late” in their sexual development that while sleeping around may be one thing, the act of sex, whether it’s sharing someone with another person in a threesome or just realizing that your partner has had a sexual past, is very much a big deal at a time in their lives when sex is kind of commonplace. It’s a sentiment that’s worth considering in day to day life, that sometimes, things are bigger than we think they are, and just b/c something is meaningful and important, it doesn’t have to rule and ruin your life.

And that sometimes, it just takes meeting that right person to either make everything up to that point alright, or ruin everything from this point on out. It’s that thin a line. And finding that line is probably something best left discovered outside of the movies.

Filed under: All,Movies

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