Maybe you’ve noticed the signs during your morning subway commute. They’re almost believable for a split second: Still a virgin? Call the virgin helpline at 888-743-4335.
The posters promote The Virginity Hit, a new comedy co-directed by Andrew Gurland and Huck Botko and produced by fratty funnymen Will Ferrell and Adam MacKay. It tells the story – nay, shows the story – of four high school boys with a video camera, intent on becoming men.
The montages that open the film, bleared with druggy steam, show each dude taking celebratory bong rips in commemoration of their first fucks. But by the time the movie really gets going, Matt (played by Matt Bennett – all the film’s characters’ are named after the actors who play them) is the only one left still a virgin. Matt’s plan to go all the way with Nicole, his girlfriend of two years, is foiled when he finds out she’s cheated on him with a college guy. Social urgency is now propelled by revenge; the boys plot an elaborate date that is supposed to end with Matt dumping Nicole just moments before inaugural penetration. Inevitably, Nicole figures out that something’s up and opens the door to the adjoining room, only to find all of Matt’s friends, crouched on the floor, huddled around a video camera. Nicole’s father comes to retrieve her, and he pushes Matt into some shrubbery. It’s ironic, considering the subsequent feats of filmed promiscuity, that this exchange is the one that goes viral and predicates the rest of the action. What follows is a series of misguided attempts (almost-incest in the bayou, internet scams, a whore with a heart of gold) at distracting Matt from his lovesick heart, and more importantly, getting him laid.
Sound like standard fare? Story-wise it is, but I didn’t mention that the entire film’s “plot” is videotaped by the boys themselves and uploaded to YouTube.
Gurland and Botko have obviously watched a lot of YouTube, and they’re influenced mostly by homemade horseplay – boys shoving girls into swimming pools, shaving cream in the face. The Virginity Hit might be the first film to integrate social media with real success. There was a time – maybe around 2004? – at which point it was still vaguely acceptable not to own a cell phone, when the choice was already transgressive but not yet a signifier of insanity. Unlike the cell phone, for some reason, YouTube hasn’t quite been granted the sort of cultural authority it deserves. It’s high time that its influence on entertainment be directly acknowledged; there’s an internet full of tropes just waiting to be appropriated.
Sure, guys looking at online porn is nothing new, but using YouTube conceptually, as a narrative device, certainly is. There’s nothing more satisfying than framed stories (see Forrest Gump, Slumdog Millionaire, The Princess Bride, Day For Night, even Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales). It’s delightful and surprising each time the camera pans out here, pulling you away from the frantic pranks and excruciating mortification. Suddenly, you realize that you’re watching – along with thousands of other fictional viewers – a viral video on a computer screen. If I have one criticism of the movie, it’s that this trick isn’t deployed more often. It made me smile each time.
Though the YouTube-framing is certainly the film’s most striking feature, the humor is itself sophisticated, especially considering how easy it would be to fall victim to the whims of its teenage protagonists. The thematic content – what we talk about when we talk about sex – lends itself well to that sort of non-joke whose humor hinges upon corrupt syntax. When Matt finds out about Nicole’s infidelity, he moans, “We were going to lose our virginities to each other!” There’s just something so funny about that reciprocal construction. And later, whimpering to his mom: “She cheated on me.” Again, funny for its grammar. Funny because it’s so passive. Like hearing your own voice over an answering machine, such phrases take on a syntactical absurdity when spouted by 17-year-olds with scumstaches. Despite the film’s premise, there actually isn’t any gratuitous gross-out porn; the script relies more on the squeamish things we say rather than the squeamish things we do – an unexpected and elegant decision, considering the shit (often literal) that’s on YouTube. Gurland and Butko have demonstrated restraint. “Dick hole,” one of my favorite insults from the film, is used sparingly for greater effect.
Conversation can easily ruin sex. Hence, the script’s specific attention to language. Matt, always soulful, refuses the suggestion to just sleep with whomever, declaring, “I don’t want to fuck strangers. Strangers fuck other strangers.” But his principles fall like a pair of Jockeys, and soon he’s responding to promiscuous online videos from, yes, strangers. Matt’s friends advise him to talk dirty to Becca, a sexy girl he meets over the internet, recommending the line, “I’m going to fuck the taste out of your mouth.” Matt, appalled, replies, “I’m not going to say that. I’m not going to say that to anyone.” But of course he does, and Becca acts shocked – she is shocked – mostly because she doesn’t know what he means. If it weren’t for the cunnilingus Becca forces Matt to perform on a male blowup doll few minutes later, this would have remained with me as one of the film’s more cringe-worthy moments. Becca, it should be said, turns out in fact to be “Kelly,” a doctoral candidate; Matt is a guinea pig for her graduate thesis.
Matt Bennett, with those dark-lashed eyes and lips that will take him a few years to grow into, looks like a young Andy Samberg. He’s cute in that eventual sort of way that an infatuated crush can exaggerate. His friends are relatively anonymous-looking, as all are smart-but-socialized teenage boys. More important than appearances though is the rapport between all the kids, which is uncannily organic, so much so that when the screening ended, I could hear multiple people murmuring in the audience about whether or not the actors were all friends before the filming started. (they weren’t.)
There’s enough stylistic tweaking here, what with the handheld camera and the YouTube-framing, to relieve the film’s storyline of much need for narrative perversity. Of course, in the end, Matt gets the girl. As he should. The poor guy’s already endured a life’s worth of public humiliation. Cinema has always amplified the feelings and events of real life. And now, for better or worse, the opinion of strangers matters to us more than ever; they can make or break the identity we choose to share with the world. So sure, the prospect of video blogging your first sex acts might seem distasteful, but it’s not that far fetched. It’s probably too late now for some lonelygirl15-style viral marketing, but I wouldn’t mind a song with some “dick hole”-heavy lyrics sung by the naked cast of The Virginity Hit.