No woman, no cry

40 Days and 40 Nights

If you were a young man in the Peace Corps assigned to Afghanistan under the Taliban, what would you miss most? Razor blades? Hardly. Music? Maybe for some. The answer is pretty obvious. Movies. Could you do without seeing a single film for 24 months? I doubt it. You’d probably come back in a straitjacket, screaming in agony.

In Michael Lehmann’s 40 Days and 40 Nights, Matt (Josh Hartnett) denies himself what he wants most. Sex. For 40 days and 40 nights. No women, no self-gratification.

You’d hardly call sex an addiction, since every healthy person feels the needs. Nonetheless for Matt and his disbelieving friends, he takes the vow of celibacy.

So sceptical are his disbelieving friends they take bets, and when the kitty builds to $18,000 they go to extraordinary lengths to make sure he’s keeping his side of the bargain. His roommate even has a special light that he uses to scan Matt’s sheets to see that, as he puts it, “no fluids are liberated.”

You wouldn’t think a one-joke comedy can pull it off (so to speak) for 92 minutes, but thanks to a snappy script by Rob Perez, swift pacing by director Michael Lehmann, and perhaps most of all the clean-cut good looks and affable personality of Josh Hartnett, 40 Days succeeds in keeping you charmed, smiling, and happy.

What’s particularly admirable is the film shows how to intelligently treat a subject that has kept audiences in stitches since the days of Aristophanes. What motivates the action, or inaction, of the central character is that Matt has just been dumped by girlfriend Nicole (Vinessa Shaw) and tries to get her out of his mind by shacking up with a bevy of gorgeous women.

The trouble is that each relationship reaches an impasse when Matt, at a moment that he should be happiest, imagines that the ceiling is cracking. He believes his problem is his fixation on sex with Nicole (now engaged to another guy) and that he can recover his sanity by freeing himself from desire. Thus his vow to have not a sexual relationship, not even with himself, for 40 days. (the period of time Jesus was in the desert to test his ability to deflect temptation).

If working for a dot.com company is anything like the way it’s portrayed in this fun film, what a shame that so many of these organisations went belly-up during the past couple of years.

Matt is surrounded by fun guys, seductive women, and best of all, he clicks with the lovely girl-next-door type, Erica (Shannyn Sossamon). True to the conventions of romantic comedy, director Lehmann and scripter Rob Perez make sure to put obstacles in their way to keep them apart as long as possible, until their inevitable reconciliation. 

  • Click to stay connected with more stories like this
  • Sign up here to receive news by email. Once per day, no spam.

Most Read in Showbiz