40 Days and 40 Nights

40 Days and 40 Nights (15)

WHEN his girlfriend leaves him San Franciscan webpage designer Matt Sullivan (Josh Hartnett) endures a series of disastrous bedroom adventures that prove one thing: he’s lost the knack to do it.

Mooning over his lost love, Nicole (Vinessa Shaw), Matt pours out his heart to his brother, a trainee priest, and hits on the perfect cure for his sexual malaise: he’ll cut out sex for Lent.

And that means all sex. Everything. Completely. No kissing, licking, nuzzling, snuggling, or stroking. Certainly no masturbation and absolutely no jogging of the horizontal variety.

For a man like Matt – something of an office darling for the women in the firm – it’s a tough call. Out go the dirty mags and the top shelf videos. Life becomes a lot less frenetic, and Matt starts to enjoy his self-imposed celibacy and the discipline it involves.

Then he meets Erica (Shannyn Sossamon) in his local launderette, and his heart goes Boom! So does hers. Suddenly, Matt is faced with the quandary of wooing and winning the girl of his dreams while sticking to his new code. In a 21st century world of rapid relationships and easy sex, how will he manage?

It doesn’t help that the guys and girls in the office set up a sweepstake taking bets on how long he’ll last, prompting various Machiavellian measures from gentlemen and ladies alike to seduce him back to the ways of the flesh.

Not least is the attempt by one office vixen who photocopies her shapely backside and presents it to him along with her ‘phone number. Another involves two dollybirds who engage in some stunningly Sapphic slobbering while Matt looks on in despair.

How many of these were the fantasies of screenwriter Rob Perez?

40 Days and 40 Nights is a pretty nonsensical journey through one man’s libido but ends up providing some genuine moments of clarity amongst its overtly male-orientated sex fantasies and silliness.

Most obvious is Hartnett’s transformation from stud to gibbering wreck. A couple of fantasy sequences – Hartnett imagines all the women in the pavement cafes, while in his dreams he flies over a sea of undulating breasts – are also exceptionally well delivered.

Hartnett himself, here carrying his first film after enjoying being part of ensemble casts in Pearl Harbor and Black Hawk Down, is also comfortable and confident in a part which will only serve to increase his standing as one of the big new Hollywood sex symbols.

Yet there is at attempt at tackling some terribly deep stuff in 40 Days and 40 Nights, not least the issue of promiscuity and rampant power sex among certain stratas of US society. On the latter basis Vinessa Shaw scores highly as Matt’s ball-breaking former lover, particularly as she only appears in a handful of scenes that, in essence, bookend the film.

By far the best scene in the movie involves a family dinner party where Matt’s father (a superb Barry Newman in a tiny cameo) happily explains to his kids and wife that his bad hip means he can no longer engage in the gymnastic coupling of his youth. Then he produces a poster of positions that he can still manage.

Priceless.

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