40 Days and 40 Nights (2002)

40 days and 40 nights IMDb

This one of those movies that I had no interest in seeing when it was released, and have no desire to ever watch again. 40 Days and 40 Nights takes what could have been an interesting premise– a man decides to give up all sexual activity for Lent– and completely squanders it. The leads (Josh Hartnett and Shannyn Sossamon) were both big in the early 2000s, but watching this  makes it clear why neither has done much of note since. Top it all off with an incredibly offensive ending, and you get a movie that is best forgotten.

The plot of 40 Days should have lent itself to some interesting discussion of contemporary relationships. This is the story of a guy who gives up sex, and then meets the woman of his dreams. Even though it’s a comedy, I still expected somewhat meaningful reflection on love and sex and the space where they intersect. Instead every character seems preoccupied with Hartnett and Sossamon’s lack of physical contact. The main point of this movie seems to be “How can two people be in love if they aren’t having sex?”, which is such a simplistic reduction of the concept.

Instead the movie chooses to focus on breasts. So, so many tits (and the occasional ass). The concept of visually showing Hartnett’s frustration works once, but sustaining it over several scenes is a fool’s errand. The scene on the bus where Hartnett “sees” every woman topless is funny; showing his boob-filled dream is just too much. We are also treated to scenes of his friends and coworkers being complete jerks by betting on how soon he’ll cave on his vow and openly attempting to sabotage him. Brushing aside the fact that I doubt any guy in real life would have as much knowledge about their friend’s sex life, it seems unrealistic that Hartnett’s character would be so blasé about their lack of support.

In fact, I was incredibly underwhelmed by the entire cast. I’ve never been a fan of Josh Hartnett, but I remember him having some charisma is Pearl Harbor (Maybe? I’m starting to doubt my memory.). Here he’s just kind of blah, and I’m not sure if it’s because he actually isn’t that great or the script is just dragging him down. Shannyn Sossamon was also super popular during this time thanks to A Knight’s Tale, but again, blahness permeates her performance. Her character is also given strange, over-the-top reactions to things that often don’t make sense. She seems to make snap judgements about Hartnett when they first meet that contradict the cool, go-with-the-flow kind of woman she is presented as at other times.

However, the absolute worst thing about this movie is the ending. Hartnett’s vow is originally sparked by his girlfriend dumping him and subsequently getting engaged to another man within a few weeks. Near the end of the movie the ex is dumped and wants Harnett back. When he rejects her, she decides to take revenge by raping him, thereby ruining his Lent vow and his blossoming relationship with Sossamon. Let me repeat that– she rapes him. There is no other way to describe this scene, which I’m guessing is meant to be played for laughs but is incredibly unfunny and in bad taste. Had the genders been reversed there is no way a scene like this would have made it into a comedy. Everything would have been resolved in a nicer way, which begs the question of why it wasn’t here?

Rating: F

I really enjoy this film. 40 Days and 40 Nights feels like it should be nothing more than a generic teen flick, but the story is so original and the chemistry between the leads is really good that it becomes better than that.

Josh Hartnett plays Matt, a young 20-something, struggling to deal with a recent break-up. He is not satisfied no matter how much promiscuous sex he has, and eventually he decides to give up sex for lent. This includes all sexual activity of any kind (i.e. no jerking either). When Matt’s friends catch on to this vow, they start a betting pool to see when it will end. Complicating things further is Matt’s budding relationship with Erica (Shannyn Sossamon), a cute girl he met at a laundromat. Matt must try and keep this new relationship alive, while still keeping his vow of celibacy for the 40 days of Lent, which proves far more difficult that he originally anticipated.

The thing I enjoyed most about this film was that it is almost an anti-teen flick. Films like American Pie and Porkies are almost exclusively about young boys trying to get laid. This film turns that scenario on its head and puts Josh Hartnett in a situation where he can’t have it. I found this to be such an original story for this teen romp genre.

Hartnett’s performance is good. He believably portrays this young man who doesn’t quite understand how much of an undertaking it is giving up sex for 40 days. For ladies reading this, it would be quite challenging for a man in his 20s to not have any sexual activity for 40 days. Any man who tells you otherwise is lying. At the back end of the 40 days is when Hartnett really shines. He is great when the pressure of keeping this vow starts to get to him. He also has terrific chemistry with Sossamon. They are very cute together in this film. I wonder what happened to her. She was also really good in A Knight’s Tale with Heath Ledger, but hasn’t done much since then. I enjoyed her performance in both of those films, and it is a shame she hasn’t done more.

40 Days and 40 Nights is a fun, original take on the teen comedy, featuring good performances from the two leads who have terrific chemistry together.

Rating: B-

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