Steve Carell’s Breakout Role Is Streaming For Free

Steve Carell will always be The Office's Michael Scott, but the show never would have survived without this free streaming movie.

By Nathan Kamal | Published

steve carell

Steve Carell will always be known for The Office. Despite aging into one of Hollywood’s premiere silver foxes, his portrayal of clueless, yet eventually good-hearted middle manager Michael Scott will be his most lasting legacy as a performer. That role (and the slow ascendance of the NBC show as one of pop culture’s most ubiquitous sitcoms via streaming services) became a hit after years of preparation in the trenches of live comedy, cable satire, and supporting roles in comedy films. However, The Office would not have made it past its clumsy, stilted first season except for one movie: The 40-Year-Old Virgin. The 2005 sex and/or romantic (take your pick) comedy turned Steve Carell into a household name, along with director Judd Apatow, a whole slew of performers, and is currently streaming for free on Tubi. 

steve carell

The 40-Year-Old Virgin was Steve Carell’s first role as a leading man and Judd Apatow’s first time in the director’s chair. Steve Carell had an almost archetypal early career for a comic actor of his generation, beginning with a stint in a comedy troupe at Chicago’s legendary Second City, transitioning to failed but talent-stuffed sketch series The Dana Carvey Show, small appearances on sitcoms like Just Shoot Me and eventually supporting roles in comedy films. But it was appearing as the profoundly dim Brick Tamland in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy that put him on producer Judd Apatow’s radar. When it came time for Apatow to direct a film himself after years of script doctor work on movies like Liar Liar and Bruce Almighty, he selected Steve Carell as the star. 

Steve Carell plays the titular character The 40-Year-Old Virgin, a shy and awkward electronics store employee. After getting asked to join a poker game with his coworkers (out of desperation, more or less), he finds his world expanding past his hobbies of acquiring vintage collectibles, video games, and online poker. His new coworkers/friends try various strategies to get to have sex for the first time, with differing levels of humorous grossness involved. Steve Carell meets single mother/grandmother Catherine Keener and after a false start, they decide to not have sex until their 20th date. As they say, hijinks ensure.  

The key to The 40-Year-Old Virgin is that Steve Carell’s Andy is not a sex-obsessed creep or even really all that weird. While he is initially presented as naive and bumbling compared to his coworkers (played by Seth Rogen, Romany Malco, and Paul Rudd), the movie eventually shows the trio of supposedly worldly men to be at least as confused and troubled as Steve Carell. The 40-Year-Old Virgin is focused on Steve Carell’s character and how he slowly learns to grow as a person, proving himself as a salesman, a manager, preparing to open his own stereo store, and becoming a well-rounded and supportive human being. But the movie is also about Romany Malco slowly realizing his image as a hypersexual womanizer is a facade, Paul Rudd learning to get over his ex, and Seth Rogen, well, his stockroom oaf seems pretty set from the beginning.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin was a breakout for pretty much everyone involved, which is a lot. The movie has appearances by a staggering number of familiar faces, including Jonah Hill, Kevin Hart, Kat Dennings, Jane Lynch, and Elizabeth Banks. It also ushered in a solid decade of Judd Apatow hits and imitators. The improv-heavy dialogue was a sea change in American comedies, briefly creating a subgenre of movies in which stoner manchildren have long, pop-culture-informed adventures. In truth, that is the part of The 40-Year-Old Virgin that has aged the most poorly. The often excruciatingly extended homophobic scenes (including the notorious “you know how I know you’re gay” sequence between Seth Rogen and Paul Rudd) are part of a continuum of gay-panic jokes in American comedy, but that doesn’t make them any more palatable. 

But past the crass sexual humor, homophobia, and Leslie Mann projectile vomiting, The 40-Year-Old Virgin is a surprisingly sweet romantic comedy. Steve Carell and Catherine Keener have tremendous, believable chemistry. Lesser movies would leave an audience wondering what a self-assured woman like Keener would see in Steve Carell’s hesitant, bumbling character, but the movie continually shows every primary character as an actual human with feelings and needs. There are no villains in The 40-Year-Old Virgin, just people trying to do their best. Plus, the movie ends with an unexpected, amazingly amateurish musical number (suggested by Judd Apatow’s mentor Garry Shandling), which makes everything go down easier.

The 40-Year-Old Virgin was an enormous hit, grossing $177 million at the box office and being named one of the top ten films of the year by American Film Institute Awards. The faltering American adaptation of The Office was greenlit for a second season on the back of Steve Carell’s sudden stardom, and his character quickly retooled as a clueless but well-meaning bumbler rather than a toxic mess. While Michael Scott may be the source of a thousand memes, he never would have stuck around without The 40-Year-Old Virgin.