FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL (Nicholas Stoller). 112 minutes. Opens Friday (April 18). For venues and times, see listings. Rating: NNN
In the opening scene of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Jason Segel, playing a struggling composer named Peter, gets out of the shower and is promptly dumped by his super-successful actor-girlfriend of five years, Sarah Marshall. And for 73 frames – just north of three uncomfortable seconds – we are eye-to-eye with Segel’s one-eyed monster.
While cringe-inducing (when Peter’s piper popped up, it sent the two grey-haired dolls seated next to me scurrying for the exit), the moment is hardly surprising, given the movie’s producer, Judd Apatow.
What John Hughes was to sensitive freaks-and-geeks teen comedies of the 80s, Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up) is to a certain brand of male humiliation comedy. His films are invariably about likeable losers, slovenly self-indulgent man-children obsessed with porn, pot, pop culture and their own penises, who are challenged to kick-start their arrested development – to grow the fuck up! – by the put-upon women who are inexplicably attracted to them.
In this case, Segel’s shy, insecure underachiever can move forward with his life only after being sent into a downward spiral of heartbroken self-loathing that takes him to the very same Hawaiian resort where his ex (Kristen Bell) and her rock twit new boyfriend, Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), are staying.
But with the help of a pretty hotel concierge (Mila Kunis) and a posse of Apatow’s Frat Pack regulars – Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill – Peter is soon finding his footing.
What sets this film apart from earlier products off the Apatow assembly line is that it has a sweeter, gentler core beneath the pain and suffering.
Forgetting was also written by Segel, who stars in the underappreciated sitcom How I Met Your Mother, and like Apatow, he understands that being filthy and being funny aren’t always the same thing. Sometimes it’s better to let the audience fill in the blanks with their own dirty little minds, as when a lonely Peter says, “I need to B my L on someone’s Ts.”
And it’s got some autobiographical detail. The story is rumoured to be based on Segel’s breakup with his Freaks And Geeks co-star Linda Cardellini, while his character’s dream of producing a Dracula puppet musical, which provides a couple of key hilarious and heartfelt moments, is based on Segel’s dream of doing the same thing. I do hope Segel gets to make that Muppet movie he’s been signed to write.
If only Segel – or Apatow – knew how to write female characters with the kind of depth Hughes showed in Pretty In Pink, Sixteen Candles and Some Kind Of Wonderful.