One of the neat things about the way Judd Apatow works is how he enables talented folks he worked with back before he became a major Hollywood player to grab the spotlight. With 2007's Knocked Up, Apatow rewarded actor Seth Rogen with a headlining role after he logged hours of supporting work in the Apatow-produced TV shows Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared and the film The 40-Year-Old Virgin. In 2005, Apatow collaborated with Steve Carell on Virgin, giving Carell a high-profile follow-up to his great but small part in Anchorman.
And now, with the film Forgetting Sarah Marshall, actor Jason Segel's got next. Segel and Apatow go way back: Freaks and Geeks, North Hollywood, Undeclared, and Knocked Up. Segel's given memorable supporting turns throughout his career, and he's gone on to co-star in the TV sitcom How I Met Your Mother. But Sarah Marshall marks Segel's coming-out party — especially if it's true that TV actors yearn to make the crossover to film stardom, an actual subplot in the film, written by Segel.
Segel plays Peter Bretter, the composer for a CSI-type TV show starring Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell), his girlfriend. Sarah breaks up with Peter in the film's first five minutes, a dramatic scene turned comic by unblinking full-frontal male nudity.
Peter grieves the end of the long-term relationship, but he fails to get over Sarah with sex, alcohol, and reality-TV binging. He's a sad sack who comes up with the less-than-stellar idea of taking a trip to a tropical resort that his ex used to rave about. (If the Apatow & Co. oeuvre were a sitcom, Forgetting Sarah Marshall would be the episode where they go to Hawaii.)
Inevitably, Peter runs into his ex and her new flame on vacation, the crappy, pretentious, whorish Brit rocker Aldous Snow (a hilarious Russell Brand), and Peter meets a super-cute local, Rachel Jansen (That '70s Show's Mila Kunis), who just might appreciate Peter for who he is.
Segel pulls off the difficult trick of making a depressed character the lead in a comedy without dragging the whole contraption down, mainly by humanizing his character rather than sacrificing him for cheap laughs. And, though it would be natural, Sarah isn't made to be the villain of the piece: For much of the film, she's merely the reason the plot is set in motion, but, by the end, she earns her own place as a viable character with motivations that can be understood.
Sarah Marshall is one sexed-up movie. But the film isn't simply raunchy; instead, it uses sex as a paradigm. It's an idea that distinguishes it, Knocked Up, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and Superbad from any number of '80s and '90s adolescent comedies these films evoke.
Apart from the parade of company actors who show up in the film, the function of sex and the benign acceptance of all characters despite their shortcomings place Forgetting Sarah Marshall squarely in the Apatow canon.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall