The 40-Year-Old Virgin was released 10 years ago today. And, to cut to the chase: It holds up. It may even have gotten better with age.
That’s likely because The 40-Year-Old Virgin wasn’t simply, then or now, a “sex comedy,” as Wikipedia delightfully puts it. It was also the film that put Judd Apatow, who’d won a small, devoted fan base with the TV shows Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared, on the mainstream map. It was the film that launched (almost) a thousand bromantic comedies. It was the film that established Apatow not just as a Hollywood king (and, much more interestingly, queen)-maker, but also as a kind of cultural critic.
The 40-Year-Old Virgin also heralded a cultural moment, one preoccupied with a question that will be implied, if not explicitly asked, by a film about a middle-aged virgin: What does it mean, actually, to grow up? How does one really—at this moment, in this context, in this culture—become an adult?
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It’s often said that Apatow’s films are fundamentally conservative, or at least driven, fundamentally, by conservative values—in their celebration of harmonious coupledom (Trainwreck, Bridesmaids), in their insistence on the fulfillments of having children (Knocked Up, This Is 40), and in their denigration of casual sex (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Forgetting Sarah Marshall). And also, you could add, in their parochialism (so many bros, a-bro-in’!) and their sexism (Katherine Heigl’s very valid criticism of Knocked Up as painting its women “as shrews, as humorless and uptight,” and its men “as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys”). Whether their emphasis is bromance or romance or a combination of the two, they often adopt the rom-com’s culturally conciliatory view: that individual fulfillment comes through a kind of self-abnegation, through surrender to something greater than oneself—a couple, a family, a collective.