Forgetting the Motif

“Forgetting Sarah Marshall” is the latest in Judd Apatow’s production of comedies, which almost spawned a post of its own. I’ve found that Apatow seems to be producing, for the huge part, a form of romantic comedies and biopic parodies. On one side, you have his friends from “Freaks and Geeks”: “Knocked Up”, “40 Year Old Virgin” (okay, that’s Carell, but Rogen is in it so I’m counting it as F+G territory) and now, Jason Segel’s “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”.

(On the other, if you have noticed, is his friends from Will Ferrell’s side of Hollywood: “Anchorman”, “Talladega Nights” and “Walk Hard”. I’m actually shocked he didn’t produce “Semi-Pro”, as Jackie Moon would have added to a conglomerate of strange American icons in Ron Burgandy, Ricky Bobby and Dewey Cox. Maybe he opted for “Drillbit Taylor” instead.)

It almost runs counter-intuitive that Apatow, a man that has become as revered as anyone in Hollywood, would achieve such power broker status as a romantic comedy producer. But I think just refining him down to that would be to undermine what he’s doing to a genre that has supported Matthew McConaughey’s entire career. Apatow’s romantic comedy productions are pushing forward a genre and making it more accessible to males. Going to see “Knocked Up” did not have the negative connotation of seeing a “chick flick”, leaving boyfriends across America to have to defend themselves for being whipped.

It’s a testament to these movies, I suppose, that Apatow produces romantic comedies but not chick flicks. And I suppose that’s what “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” really is. I mean, at its core, “FSM” is a story about a man that’s broken-hearted that falls for another woman (a beautiful, beautiful Mila Kunis). It’s a romantic comedy, and there’s no way around that. The coinciding plots are rather unimportant; everything at the beginning is centered around building up the heartbreak of our main character, Peter Bretter (played by screenwriter Segel), after he breaks up with TV star Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). Everything in the back-end is to strengthen his budding love with Kunis’ character.

So, think about this for a moment. “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” has every bit the plot twists and turns of “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days”, but somehow, Segel has built a story that avoids Chick Flick status. And, amazingly, it’s a very simple formula that Segel has followed to do this, and to join the Apatow brand of romantic comedies:

Build strong supporting characters that make us laugh by pushing the limits of sexual humor.

It’s. That. Simple.

In “40 Year Old Virgin”, you had David (Paul Rudd), Jay (Romany Malco) and Cal (Rogen) as Steve Carell’s sidekicks, pushing him not towards a relationship with Trish, but towards losing his virginity. The whole movie is sexualized humor, and Elizabeth Banks plays a supporting character that is only in the movie as a vehicle for sexual humor.

In “Knocked Up”, Ben Stone (Rogen) is supported by Segel, Rudd, as well as friends Jay (Jay Baruchel), Jonah (Jonah Hill) and Martin (Martin Starr). All, except for Rudd, are merely Stone’s sidekicks. Segel in the movie is highly sexualized, and Jonah Hill is fantastic. I think if we all remember the scene Stone is on the phone with Alison Scott (Katherine Heigl), who has called him to set up a date to drop the bomb, we remember the sexual boundaries of this script.

“Forgetting Sarah Marshall” is simply Segel’s learnings in this type of script. As has now been made famous, Segel has written a script in which he shows his own junk multiple times. That we briefly see Kunis’ boobs hasn’t been talked about at all, but Segel’s penis is the talk of the town. But the movie also has highly sexualized supporting characters. Jack McBrayer, of “30 Rock” fame, plays a newly married man that is terrified of sex. Russell Brand is new to American comedy, and he plays Sarah Marshall’s newest love interest, British rocker Aldous Snow. Brand is a sex pistol, literally, who ultimately teaches McBrayer how to fuck. Finally, Jonah Hill has a sort of cameo as a homosexual fan of Snow.

Throw in a scene that puts Meg Ryan in “When Harry Met Sally” to shame, and Segel has done it — he has put in enough sex jokes to widen his audience.

People say men are simple beings. Never has it been proven more true in Judd Apatow’s success in widening the breadth of Romantic Comedies with one easy swoop.

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