40 Days and 40 Nights is an amusing look at sexuality set in the hip location of San Francisco. Josh Hartnett plays web designer Matt Sullivan, a cool twentysomething who copes badly with a split with glamorous girlfriend Nicole (Vinessa Shaw). He finds solace in a hedonistic lifestyle that involves bedding a different girl each night, but when he starts imagining cracks in the ceiling turning into black holes he realises his life is spinning out of control.
He seeks advice from his priest, brother and spiritual guru John (Adam Trese). Their different personas and banter creates hilarious situations.
The church does not have the answer for Matt. Until, that is, he is inspired to give up something for Lent. His brainwave is to abstain from sex for a whole 40 days and 40 nights.
So how will he survive? Director Robert Lehmann (The Truth about Cats and Dogs, Airheads and Heathers) deals with it in a comic but realistic way. A variety of characters and sequences show how difficult a test it is for Matt. First he must throw out his dubious video collection, including the aptly named, ‘In Diana Jones.’ The babe posters and nude fridge magnets go too. Of course he still has the obstacle of flat mate Ryan (Paulo Constanzo) and his playboy life style to lead him into temptation.
Matt turns instead to making model cars and visits to the launderette to cope. It is on one of these visits that he meets the charming Erica (Shannyn Sossaman) who is his dream woman. But what an unfortunate time to meet. They strike up a friendship that blossoms despite her confusion at Matt’s unusual experiment.
Hartnett and Sossamons’ relationship on screen is natural and relaxed and their chemistry is convincing. Matt’s attempt to deal with the temptation set in his path is captured with Lehman’s clever use of sexual imagery. Many sequences have major fantasy elements to them. The statue of The Virgin Mary comes alive and winks at him at one point. There’s a ludicrous situation in the workplace where the male colleagues place bets on how long he will last – and the women in the office turn from unattainable totty to vampish predatory temptresses. He miraculously manages to resist their manipulative advances, but not without some incredible slapstick moments.
Jerry the office boss, vows to give up sex to in a vain attempt to save his troubled marriage. He sees all the female attention Matt is getting and unfortunately it does not have the same effect on him. He ends up mistakenly taking viagra with detrimental outcome. The ex-girlfriend Nicole makes an untimely comeback toward the climax of the film. The ending is unexpected and a clever twist gives the film even more of an edge.
40 Days and 40 Nights is a fresh look at male sexuality. It is successfully directed and this comes across in the actors who are relaxed and comfortable in their roles. This is feel-good film, light-hearted and laid back, but it still makes you think.