I can’t deny it. I love the Judd Apatow comedy revolution. About six years ago, we had the emergence of the so-called Frat Pack, which includes the likes of Vince Vaughn, Will Ferrell, Owen Wilson, and Jack Black. Those guys are all funny, to be sure, but there is always a slightly mocking, detached quality to their hipster humor. One could easily see them holding court over a kegger, surrounded by appreciative jocks (hence the Frat Pack designation).
By contrast, Apatow, who famously helmed a show called Freaks and Geeks, is dealing with the real (male) misfits of our society—the awkward teenage boys, the video game slackers, the knobby-kneed, the virginal, and tongue-tied. He has planted an extremely rich comedy tree, which includes pudgy Seth Rogen and pudgier Jonah Hill, preternaturally droll Michael Cera, and goofy Paul Rudd (perhaps the least geeky of Apatow’s protégées—he’s also an ancillary member of the Frat Pack—but an ever-game member of the troupe).
The newest unlikely star to emerge from the Apatow fold is Jason Segel (late of Freaks and Geeks), who lets it all hang out (literally) in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, a film he also wrote. As the film starts, Segel’s Peter, wearing only a towel (which promptly drops to the floor), is dumped by Sarah (Kristen Bell), a middling television actress who stars in a CSI-style crime drama. The nudity is, at once, a metaphor for Peter’s vulnerability, and, of course, an extremely funny visual gag (in that sense, it just may be the quintessential Apatow scene.) Peter is convinced by his level-headed buddy Brian (SNL’s Bill Hader) to take a trip to get his mind off Sarah. And as luck would have it, he ends up at the same Hawaiian resort as Sarah and her new rock star beau (hilarious Russell Brand, in a star making turn.) Of course, there’s a hottie who works at the front desk (Mila Kunis) to complicate matters.
To Segel’s credit, the film has no villains. Brand’s Alduous Snow is a comical figure, an armadillo-in-his-trousers wannabe sex god straight out of This Is Spinal Tap. Bell’s Sarah Marshall is a bit uptight, but not a bad person—she’s just too Type A for the terminally laid back Peter. As for Kunis, I’ve been a fan of hers since That 70s Show, and always wondered why some director hadn’t snatched her up for a rom-com.
The genius of Forgetting Sarah Marshall is that it works on two levels: it’s a bawdy sex comedy, but it’s also a near—dare I say it?— chick flick about a guy who can’t get over his ex and fails to notice the adorable and perfect girl standing right in front of him. And that’s the beauty of Apatow’s films: They are raunchy enough to appeal to the most puerile of viewers, but they also have a genuine affection for their characters and a real insight into the stuff of human relationships. Let’s see the Frat Pack do that.