I don’t know how many romantic comedies I can list that I honestly enjoyed, but 40 Days and 40 Nights wouldn’t make the cut. Here is a movie where a guy, for a reason that therapy would likely be a better solution, decides that he should embark on a path of celibacy for the entire period of Lent. He professes to someone later in the film that he’s not addicted to sex, but considering how frequently he goes to confession — to his priest of a brother — I somehow have to doubt him.
The main character is Matt (Josh Hartnett), who had his heart broken six months prior by Nicole (Vinessa Shaw). She’s now engaged, after only knowing her fiancé for two weeks, apparently, and because every time Matt has sex, he sees a black hole appear in the ceiling — I’m guessing the floor as well, depending on, well, you know — he decides that abstinence will solve his problems. The sun shines on him, he sees Jesus wink at him and give him the thumbs up (further making me wonder if he should be seeking therapy), and everything seems to be going his way.
This is a romantic comedy, so Matt has to meet someone who he instantly connects with. In this film, it’s Erica (Shannyn Sossamon), whom he meets at the local laundromat, despite not saying a single word to her upon their first encounter. She borrows a magazine, some laundry materials, informs him what the word “tryst” means — he had it underlined in one of his magazines, you see — and then leaves with a “nice almost chatting with you” quip. I instantly liked her more than the protagonist. They eventually become a couple after meeting the next week and actually having conversations.
Anyway, most of the film deals with him both having to overcome his friends and colleagues trying to make him break his vow so that they can win the pool that was started at his workplace. He has great friends, you see, as they’ve all placed bets on when he’ll succumb. He also has to deal with his now-girlfriend, who has yet to be informed about the vow. And when she does, you better believe that it’ll lead to circumstances that are not ideal. It’s a rom-com; you know how these things go.
I’ll admit, it’s kind of fun watching Josh Hartnett playing a character who absolutely needs sex, but can’t have it, if only because it comes across as really pathetic. One character describes him as “twitchy,” which is about the best way to put it. He looks like he is constantly on the brink of wetting himself, which says as much about the film’s sense of humor as it does about Hartnett’s acting ability.
Hartnett cannot carry this film, which is the first major problem. He doesn’t seem to understand that delivering everything in the same apathetic tone is not at all endearing, and it’s hard to root for or against him when he doesn’t seem to care much about anything involved in his life. Even when he’s delivering a monologue about how much he’s falling for Erica, I couldn’t believe him because there was no passion. He has no comedic timing, and when he tries to make us laugh, it’s only out of embarrassment for him.
Speaking of the jokes, I had trouble telling when the film wanted me to laugh. There didn’t seem to be a large number of jokes or funny situations, which I suppose is par for the course in many of these mediocre romantic comedies. 40 Days and 40 Nights gets downright silly and stupid near its conclusion, and it loses all credibility when it does. Earlier on, we can believe that this sort of thing could happen in real life, and that the coincidences were just that. But close to the end, the movie magic shines through. It becomes too contrived to believe.
When the film works, it’s whenever Shannyn Sossamon gets on-screen. She does her best with very little, actually — gasp — showing emotion every now and then. She’s relegated to the same role that the romantic interest in practically every male-driven rom-com gets, but does enough to stand out. We like her and her character, and almost wish that the story was about her, and that Matt was just another dude that she dated. While sitting in a bus station, she recounts the guys she dated previously, and I thought a tale about her life would be more interesting than Matt’s.
Another problem I had was grasping the time that had passed and the effects on the protagonist as his … urges built up. We get glimpses into the 40 days — the film sometimes jumps weeks into the future — but the progression is all over the place. After 13 days, he seemed ready to, uh, blow. But then after 20 some odd days, he was fine again. Get to day 35, and he once again seems back to almost slipping up. The filmmakers could have made this somewhat of a psychological study, showing us this character and his battle of willpower vs. urge, but that opportunity was missed and the film isn’t deep at all as a result.
40 Days and 40 Nights isn’t a good film. It’s a mediocre romantic comedy at best, complete with all of the clichés and tropes that come along with the genre. It features a lead that doesn’t understand the meaning of the word charisma, misses an opportunity to be something greater, and just isn’t particularly funny. It’s embarrassing, really, and I can’t recommend it for any reason.