Sometime in the mid-80’s, we lost the concept of the Gratuitous Breast. I blame Reagan. Oddly enough, the Clinton years didn’t bring a resurgence to their vivacious jigglitude, and now in the Noughts we have been given the Gratuitous Penis instead. And all I have to say is, girls, enjoy it while it lasts. Borat gave us a hairy and frightening display, and then in Walk Hard we had a bunch of eye-level wangs to contend with, for laughs I assume. At that point Judd Apatow claimed that every future project would have a dangling dingus, and in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, it’s in the opening scene.
In this hilarious comedy written by Jason Segel, he also stars as the Peter, boyfriend of a TV star on a CSI-alike show called Crime Scene (Kristen Bell). Well, not for long; he’s the composer for the show, and his days mostly consist of sitting in front of the boob tube in sweatpants eating Froot Loops from a huge bowl. She calls because she’s coming home early, and he rushes to clean up and shower, and gets the break-up news shortly after giving his girlfriend that favorite of male greetings, the weenie-wagging towel flash.
Seeing a big soft freckled doofus cry naked is a lot funnier than it sounds, and they get a lot of mileage out of it. He does the requisite moping in his apartment, and then goes out with his acerbic stepbrother (the hilarious Bill Hader) to try to fuck the ex out of his system. Nothing is working, and he sees her face platered over billboards and tabloid shows, with her new boyfriend the British pop singer Aldous (Russell Brand). So he decides to go to Hawaii; he was supposed to go there with her someday, but he figures the vacation will do him good.
Except lo and behold, she’s there with her new boy toy, in the same hotel no less. Despite this bit of convenience, the film is very well written and pretty consistently hilarious. Compared with other Apatow productions, I’d put it below Superbad and Knocked Up, but on par or above 40 Year Old Virgin, and miles above Walk Hard, which I didn’t enjoy much. The film runs on character-based humor, and boy does it have characters.
Mila Kunis plays Rachel, a sympathetic employee at the hotel who befriends Peter and becomes his new romantic interest, if you can’t figure that out from the moment she appears on-screen. She shows she can do a lot more than Meg’s voice on Family Guy. She’s great and funny, especially when she takes him cliff diving and yells “I think I can see your vagina!” when he hesitates. Other Apatow regulars like Jonah Hill and Paul Rudd appear, with Jonah playing low-key as a fan of Aldous, and Rudd utterly hilarious as Chuck the surf instructor whose brains have long been cooked in a drug-induced luau. A hefty black bartender played by Davon McDonald is surprisingly funny, and this newcomer should definitely be getting more parts. Taylor Wily is another helpful Hawaiian named Kemo, with lovely lines such as “are those sad tissues or happy tissues?”
Steve Landesberg from Barney Miller has a small part, and even Branscombe Richmond- from that forgotten 70’s flick I reviewed, The Chicken Chronicles– shows up. Jason Segel is pretty damn funny by himself, looking like a confused, lumpy Brendan Fraser most of the time. Kristen Bell wisely plays Sarah Marshall as a real person and not a movie uber-bitch; Russell Brand is a riot as the brain-dead Brit pop sensation, too. The film lacks that Douche Character that Hollywood formula has come to depend upon; Aldous may be the closest, but he’s still a likeable Lothario.
Peter is more than a whiny lovelorn goof, and that’s important to making the film as enjoyable as it is. It goes places you’d never expect, and pretty deftly. Nicholas Stoller does a great job as first-time director, leaving plenty to our imaginations when required, though not when Jason’s junk is concerned. I hope someday we can have equality in the area of Gratuitous Nudity. Mr. Wiggles is inherently funny in many situations, while bouncing boobs have rarely been used for such effect. I think there’s comedy gold to be mined there, and I look forward to the day it is found.
This is another fine entry in the “male rom-com” that Apatow practically invented, and I recommend it highly. Firecracker loved it as well- maybe a bit less, since it’s certainly guy-oriented. It’s probably not the best date movie, though both guys and girls get their fair share of slamming, so it could work. You might have an unwelcome conversation about what “counts,” though. Oh, and make sure you stay for the credits, there’s an extra scene about 30 seconds in.