The world was introduced to the world of Judd Apatow as one of the generation’s new faces of comedy when he released his directorial debut The 40-Year-Old Virgin back in 2005. At the time of the film’s release it received mixed reviews from critics, but fans seemed to find themselves drawn to Andy – the main character portrayed by Steve Carell who co-wrote the film – and the film was deemed a success and launched Apatow’s career as a director and Carell as a leading man.
However, even in 2005, there was a feeling that the film was very much a boys club. Most of the women in the film are only functional as part of Andy’s pursuit of losing his virginity, which in turn leads to some misogynistic tropes.
Fast forward 15 years and the film is still getting regular viewings on Netflix, but how does Apatow’s debut hold up in a modern world?
To start, the whole basis of the film seems like a very tired platform for what is essentially a two-hour joke. The fact that a middle aged man being a virgin is seen as enough of a plot point to base a whole film around is anxiety-inducing. In a time where people have so many hang-ups and insecurities about themselves, a man still being a virgin being the butt of a joke feels pretty dated.
Also, the stereotypes that go along with this narrow view could actually be seen as rather insensitive. The fact that Andy’s house is full of collectibles and he enjoys gaming doesn’t instantly mean that he’s a virgin and the fact that these characteristics are indicative of his “lonely lifestyle” are not necessarily a stereotype that is true today. At the time of the film’s release, these were tools used to establish who Andy is, but in reality they can be jabs at gamers and collectors who actually live happy, potentially sex-full lives.
Some of the jokes in the film don’t necessarily stand the test of time; for example the exchange between Seth Rogen’s Cal and Paul Rudd’s David saying “you know how I know you’re gay”. This is actually a homophobic joke and personally, watching this film in 2020 that moment in the film didn’t sit particularly well with me.
As already mentioned, the women in this film don’t really get the screentime to shine. Andy’s main love interest Trish (Catherine Keener) doesn’t really feel like a fully thought-out character and is literally there to fulfill the purpose of Andy falling in love. Despite this, Keener is incredibly enjoyable to watch – but this is still very much a film for the boys.
All that being said, the film isn’t outwardly offensive in any shape or form, and does bring about a sense of fun. Whereas some of the gags are a bit cringe-worthy to a 2020 audience, others stand the test of time. In particular the improvised nature of the body waxing scene is still incredible to watch, with Carrell, Rogen and Rudd all playing their part to make this scene an iconic comedy moment and -spoiler alert- when Trish and Andy finally go to consummate their marriage with the cleaner still buffing the floor, is just awkward perfection.
At the heart of the story is a very sweet narrative of a man wanting to pursue love instead of just having sex for the sake of it, which he is encouraged to do. The film also established Carrell as a lovable actor whose charm keeps the character of Andy sweet rather than pathetic which is something Apatow could so easily have done.
Even though there are some dated reference points now, there are moments in The 40-Year-Old Virgin that still stand the test of time. If this were to be released in 2020, it would be a very different film; Andy would have probably met Trish on Tinder. Regardless, 15 years on and The 40-Year-Old Virgin still brings about lots of laughs and doesn’t completely make you want to cringe into a shell and forget that 2005 ever happened.