Time flies when you’re having fun, and the last ten years have certainly flown by upon the wings of modern comedy master Judd Apatow, propelled by his now-classic The 40-Year-Old Virgin. It truly is hard to believe that Apatow’s directorial debut premiered a decade ago; even with every great comedy film that’s come along since, it remains one of the most watchable and memorable ones out there. It is unrelentingly funny, and the jokes simply don’t get old. Which is to say, the film has aged very well over the years, or perhaps more accurately it has not aged at all.
It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly makes it so timeless, and why we are drawn to it time and time again when it airs on television as it does so often. Over the last ten years, Apatow has turned out some classics as a writer, a director, and a producer. While these films are often criticized for being slightly overlong, they are mostly lauded and remembered fondly by critics and audiences alike. The 40-Year-Old Virgin, his first project for which he was director, co-writer, and producer, still stands out as one of his best. In establishing a kind of formula and distinct style of humor, and one that he would continue to hone in on over the years, Apatow somehow perfected his style on the first try. Even if future endeavors were not meant to recreate his debut outing with co-writer and star performer Steve Carell per se, the film feels the most fully realized, like a peak that all subsequent projects would strive to replicate, or else live in its shadow. In short, The 40-Year-Old Virgin represents a crisp, clear comedic vision that was uncomplicated and unhindered by the very precedent it was about to set.
But what are the components so expertly and effectively introduced and utilized in this film that make it a turning point in recent comedy history? First, the ensemble is arguably perfect, as Apatow’s films are all marked by some combination of common cast-members; a modern-day web of semi-interchangeable but all undeniably talented funny men, and some women, with Apatow’s wife and comedienne Leslie Mann being a standout even in her smaller part in Virgin. But Virgin also contains the ultimate amalgamation of players and uses them remarkably well, playing upon their comedic strengths long before we as the audience even knew what to expect, seeing as how this film marked the beginning of a full-blown breakout for a number of now-famous, successful comic actors and filmmakers.
In The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Carell is at his most endearing and dramatic best. You feel for his awkwardness and find in him the humanistic center of an axis of outrageousness, with all the supporting characters revolving around him as he unwittingly, and thereby hilariously, grapples with his long-held virginity. In addition, the aforementioned Mann and Rogen, along with a broken-hearted Paul Rudd, a womanizing Romany Malco, single-mom and down-to-earth love interest Catherine Keehner, a flirty Elizabeth Banks, and discomfort-causing manager Jane Lynch all round out the cast, delivering even the craziest, raunchiest lines, many of which were improvised, with utter conviction and calculated abandon.
What Apatow has established most with this film though, above all the uproarious, vulgar humor and an allowance for improvisation is his attention to his character’s humanity and the relatability of the story being told, and even through all the crazy, quotable comedy shenanigans we all know and love, the film has immense heart. Andy, even if stunted sexually, and appropriately finding comfort in what can technically be considered toys, is not as much a man-child as his compatriots, but he has his own streaks of immaturity. Meanwhile Rogen and Rudd play man-children more straightforwardly; they may ultimately be there to simply make us laugh and drive Andy to be more urgent about his loss-of-virginity, but their side characters feel just as three-dimensional.
Crucially, Apatow’s characters are more complex than what was perhaps formerly expected. As far as man-children go, they’re often sympathetic and believable, and perhaps never more so than in this film. In future Apatow projects, a focus on such realism and integrity in the plot and character-types seemed more deliberate and less natural. It might be a stretch to say that The 40-Year-Old Virgin is nuanced, but there’s something to be said for how the film’s never trades comedy for realism or vice versa, but instead always makes sure one is serving the other. Overall, Apatow has become a master of these ratios, but this film really strikes the balance better than any other, before or after.
That said, who can forget the closing credit sequence of The 40-Year-Old Virgin, one of Apatow’s most brazen, albeit momentary forays into absolute, unabashed absurdism? This in and of itself sets the film apart entirely from many other comedies of a similar nature that would follow over the next ten years. The scene referred to here is indeed the one in which our cast sings “The Age of Aquarius” from Hair. This is a hilarious coda that, on one level, makes no sense, existing outside of story space and acting as a showcase for these actors to just go nuts and drive home the jubilant conclusion, but on another it seems to fit perfectly and serves to punctuate the entire film, leaving us to remember how silly and fun the journey was above all other considerations of what it meant.
So what does it mean? The 40-Year-Old Virgin is one of the most heartfelt and hilarious films of the last decade, and celebrating the ten years since its premiere seems preposterous, not because it is not deserving of celebration, but because the film still feels so fresh and so fun for all of these reasons, and more. Maybe you still, and always will, love this film because, over the last ten years, you’ve been quoting silly lines like “She was a hoe, for sho.'” Or maybe you and your friends have recited the “You know how I know you’re gay” banter verbatim ad nausea, and not just from the theatrical cut either, but from the extended and deleted scenes from the DVD, as well. Maybe you’ve been quoting these to yourself when you do flip to the channel it’s playing on, and maybe you leave it playing even if it’s censored. You’ve probably even grown attached to the smaller moments, like Seth Rogen pantomiming shooting himself early on in the movie, or Jonah Hill’s strange cameo appearance. This is all speculation of course, but having had ten years to embed itself into the pop-cultural landscape and spawn many successful, hilarious films in the same vein, it’s clear that The 40-Year-Old Virgin is a more important film than you may remember, but still just as funny as you remember, too.