The 40 Year-Old Virgin: A Retrospective

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January 17, 2005: Production begins on Judd Apatow’s directorial debut The 40 Year-Old Virgin.

February 14, 2005: Youtube launches.

July, 2005: Myspace is purchased by News Corporation for $580million. Within the year the site will hit its peak with over 75million subscribers.

August 19, 2005: The 40 Year-Old Virgin is released in North America. It opens at No. 1 grossing over $21 million in its first weekend. It stayed at No. 1 the following weekend, grossing an additional $16 million. The film received near unanimous critical acclaim, resurrecting the thought-dead R-rated comedy and skyrocketing the careers of star Steve Carrell and filmmaker Judd Apatow.

July 15, 2006: Twitter is launched.

September 26, 2006: Facebook is made available to all persons over the age of 13.

The 40 Year-Old Virgin is now a 12 year-old film, known and beloved by almost anyone who encounters it. We root for Andy from minute 1 as he finds love and friendship on his way to losing his virginity. In this social media/ PC comedy era, a film with an almost entirely white cast full of very raunchy, very NON-PC humor, still delights and charms with it’s camaraderie and kind love story, all building to an ending that literally sends you off singing and dancing.

The film never plays it safe. It’s opening gag is a middle aged man walking around with a troublesome morning erection. The scene immediately following has our lead character Andy conversing with a co-worker who has recently been to Tijuana, Mexico where he watched a woman have sex with a horse. “You know how I know you’re gay?” Paul Rudd asks (future mega-star) Seth Rogen over a friendly game of Mortal Kombat. “You have a rainbow bumper-sticker that says I love it when I have balls in my face.” Every scene of 40 Year-Old Virgin is full of quotable 1-liners (largely improvised on the spot) and memorable set pieces such as the drunken drive home which crescendos with Leslie Mann (Apatow’s wife) wrecking her car and vomiting on Steve Carrel right before offering to have sex with him.

Watching the film today, you think to yourself, “How did this ever get made?!” With a mostly unknown cast, a “virgin” director and a script so full of racey and risqué material, it’s hard to believe the film was such a big hit – a game changing classic still beloved today. How? How did this film make it to the screens? Some might argue it’s the film’s heart. For every boner and racial slur, there’s a kind caring sentiment. “You know, for so long I thought there was something wrong with me because it had never happened, but I realize now it was just because I was waiting for you,” Carrel laments after crashing through two-sides of a billboard on his bike. Some argue it’s the simple, relatable premise. Who doesn’t wanna lose their virginity?! A good argument is the breakthrough style of the film. What was essentially a typical rom-com with a sitcom premise, the film was heavily improvised with a loose narrative form that also took the time to fully flesh out its characters in believable and not always pretty ways.

 

All of these are valid reasons, but consider this: The 40 Year-Old Virgin was the last major studio comedy before the boom of social media. This film was a beacon in the last stretch of the TV and print era of marketing and promotion. If you wanted to talk about this film with your friends you either had to do it in person or through some kind of personal blog. You didn’t have a cellphone that you could log onto Twitter with during the end credits to sum up your immediate reaction in 140 characters or less. There was no Facebook post to make where your friends could click like to validate your reaction and experience. No, this film was blessed with being in that sweet-spot – the last hurrah of personal/private interpretation.

The film itself being made before the technological boom helped it as well. Phones are almost never used in the film. For God’s sake, Andy meets his love interest in the film as she buys a VCR! The drunk driving scene with Leslie Mann would be solved today with an Uber. Andy and his friends actually interact with each other. They go out into the real world to search for love. Even Andy’s love interest Trish – who makes a living off of eBay – still has a physical store for people to come through and make their purchases. “Life isn’t about sex.” Andy’s co-worker Mooj tells him. “It’s about love. It’s about connection!” The line resinates for our lead, but it also speaks to the entire message and desire of the film itself: true connection with another person.

12 years later, and the 40 Year-Old Virgin is still a beautiful and hilarious experience. A film released at a time much freer of judgement. A film made at a time where you had to interact with the people you encounter. The 40 Year-Old Virgin is not self conscious, not so self aware like the films of today. The paranoia of being in the public eye 24/7 with cellphones and social media is not present, therefore the characters are aloud to make mistakes. The film is a comedy of errors. Errors made in a search for connection to the people in your life. Couple all of that with the talent in front of and behind the camera, and you’ve got a film of low risk for the studio making great returns for more than a decade after its release. A classic. A game changer. And all of that from a typical rom-com with a sitcom premise. Today, everyone is a critic with a voice that can reach millions. The 40 Year-Old Virgin begs to ask, were films better when they were less conscious of judgement?

Written by: Joe Black