Released in 2005, The 40 year Old Virgin is raucous, frank, funny, well-grounded, and fortified by the sweet lead performance of Steve Carell. Carell, a 40 year old technician at an electronics chain, is a lonely man-child, surrounded by mint-condition action figures and video games. His younger co-workers (Paul Rudd, Seth Rogen, Romany Malco) learn he is a virgin and push him out in the world so he can “bust a nut.” They each have their own theories, which are terrible, but Carell does happen upon a young grandma, Catherine Keener, and a romance develops. It all ends well in a joyous finale, a brilliant post-coital rendition of “Aquarius” and one of the finest ends to any film.
This is a roller coaster ride of potential mates (the criminally drunk Leslie Mann, the creepily seductive Jane Lynch, and the sex freak Elizabeth Banks) and inevitably disastrous consequences.
Everyone is funny, including Jonah Hill, David Koechner, Kevin Hart, and Carell’s mate from The Office, Mindy Kaling, even in the briefest of scenes. The milieu – young working stiffs in retail – also lends itself to not only hilarity derived from the vagaries of the job, but communality. The bro’ talk is sharp and true, if occasionally overdone, but is counterbalanced by Carell’s sweet humanity and earnestness.
Fast forward 7 years. Apatow is a film titan, producer of 14 movie comedies and two TV series, but director of only 3 feature films. His fourth is the execrable This is 40. Gone is the working world and the empathetic center of a lost boy. Instead, Rudd reappears in rich California suburbia, a struggling indie record company owner whose financial pressures still allow for nights away with his craven, hissing, shrewish wife (Mann) in what has to be a $1000 night oceanside resort. So much for communality.
Worse, the film is populated by unfortunate and unfunny characters. Rather than finding common cause or sympathizing in their plight, an exalted Apatow mocks them through his condescending leads. And as it all unravels, he amps up the gross-out factor to the point where Rudd is spreading his legs, demanding that Mann inspect his asshole for polyps or fissures.