Disney+ Romantic Comedy Redefined The Genre For A Generation

By Jonathan Klotz | Updated

For generations, romantic comedies were a staple at the movies, from The Philadelphia Story in 1940 starring Carey Grant and Audrey Hepburn to Pretty Woman in 1990 with Richard Gere and Julia Roberts, but the genre was, by the 2000s, starting to wither. Hit movies were still coming out, but fewer and further between, until The 40-Year-Old Virgin hit theaters and made stars out of the entire cast. At the same time, it gave rise to director Jude Apatow and a series of films that are still considered some of the best of the generation.

An Ingenius Twist On The Rom Com Format

steve carell

Steve Carell plays Andy, a 40-year-old working at an electronics store when he accidentally admits to his friends that he’s still a virgin. After initially laughing and making some jokes at his expense, his friends come together, offer advice, and try to get Andy out there to find love. The resulting montage of speed dating, social events, and paid dates is played for the obvious laughs, but The 40-Year-Old-Virgin, with Apatow’s gift for comedy, pulls off an amazing trick.

Laughing With The Nerd And Not At Him

The 40-Year-Old Virgin would not work if Judd Apatow hadn’t decided to make it clear that there’s nothing wrong with Andy. While he’s considered socially inept, he’s also shown to be a decent and friendly man who wears his heart on his sleeve. All the other characters are various forms of twisted, but keeping Andy as the warm heart at the center of the film, it remains surprisingly wholesome given how it pushed the envelope.

Opening The Door To Improv

Not only did The 40-Year-Old Virgin toss out the old notion of having to change yourself to find love, but it also threw out the script. During the infamous waxing scene, Steve Carell improved all of his reactions as he was legitimately having his chest waxed. Watch Seth Rogan during this scene, and you’ll tell when he had to hide from the camera because he was losing it.

Speaking of Rogan, a conversation between his character and Paul Rudd was also wholly improvised, and while it didn’t age well, it was a quiet breakthrough moment when an entirely improved discussion was part of a major theatrical release. Comedies have used improv for decades, but the cast of The 40-Year-Old Virgin embraced a realistic way that friends would talk to each other, and the result was box office magic.

A Box Office Smash

The 40-Year-Old Virgin was made for only $26 million; to put that in perspective, it cost as much as one episode of Wandavision. Against that budget, the film brought back $177 million worldwide, and then it was a DVD hit, followed by a cable television hit, and then a massive Blu-Ray/DVD re-release. Fans loved it, critics loved it, but most importantly, Hollywood loved it because, after the film’s release, there was a noticeable difference in comedies.

Rise Of The Bromance

With all due respect to Catherine Keener and Elizabeth Banks, and ironically for a film called The 40-Year-Old Virgin, it’s about dudes being dudes and learning to relate to other dudes. Hollywood suddenly scrambled to recapture the magic with more films that focused on back-and-forth dialogue instead of wacky hijinks. The best of the bunch that followed in Apatow’s wake is a little film called The Hangover, which made box office history of its own.

One Of The Greatest Casts Of All Time

The number of stars crammed into The-40-Year-Old Virgin is amazing, from Steve Carell’s big-screen breakthrough to Paul Rudd, Seth Rogan, Elizabeth Banks, Leslie Mann, Kat Dennings, Mindy Kaling, Jonah Hill, Kevin Hart, Romany Malco, and of course, Jane Lynch. Most of those names would go on after the film to become big, which adds to the appeal of seeing them before their names were at the top of the poster. Most would go on to star in other Judd Apatow films, but all had continued success.

A New Streaming Home

Today, The 40-Year-Old Virgin can be found in the last place you’d expect, Disney+, thanks to the Hulu beta program that requires a subscription to both services. If it’s been a while since you watched it, go back, stream it again, and realize how many amazing jokes worked their way into pop culture. If nothing else, it’s a surprisingly wholesome and heartfelt comedy that’s now a time capsule of when Hollywood tried to make people laugh.