Arts & Culture

Tropic of Implausibility

Everything that has come out of the Judd Apatow comedy industrial complex is a variation on the theme of romantic implausibility. A sexually inexperienced man-child who collects action figures will win the heart of a lissome granny (The 40 Year-Old … Read More

By / April 25, 2008

Everything that has come out of the Judd Apatow comedy industrial complex is a variation on the theme of romantic implausibility. A sexually inexperienced man-child who collects action figures will win the heart of a lissome granny (The 40 Year-Old Virgin). A financially insolvent porn database stoner will impregnate a buxom E! reporter (Knocked Up). Two homoerotically bound high school nerds will win the hearts and loins of two precocious cuties who would almost certainly be fucking college guys, with nary a computer-generated Kelly LeBrock in sight (Superbad). The premise of Forgetting Sarah Marshall is so shopworn that the movie has no right to be as entertaining as it is. Jason Segel’s Peter Bretter is a soundtrack musician for a silly Law and Order-type crime drama in which his girlfriend, the eponymous Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell) stars. She dumps him while he lolls around naked and confused in their modest L.A. home, and the first fifteen minutes or so of plot development are devoted to Peter’s coping mechanisms: weeping uncontrollably, eating cereal by the cubic meter, and sleeping around with mute-orgasming models and sadomasochistic bar skanks (nice work if you can get it). He decides to take a holiday in Hawaii to get his mind off his recently departed beloved, but, lo and behold, Sarah’s booked the same trip with her new English rock star boyfriend, Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), lead singer of my favorite band name in ages, Infant Sorrow. Peter spends about the next fifteen minutes bearing inconsolable witness to their public displays of lewdness. Were it not for an unfathomably kind and unspeakably beautiful hotel concierge, Rachel (Mila Kunis, whose bath water I’d gladly drink), Peter would have likely hanged himself by his lei. You can pretty much figure out the remaining hour or so from here: Peter discovers new love and confidence in Rachel; Sarah begins to doubt having left him; Peter’s dilemma becomes one of choosing between two girls a man who looks like Judge Reinhold sculpted from porridge and subsists in a mid-level tax bracket would never be given the option to choose from outside of a fratboy screenwriter’s imagination. Not that there’s any real choice in fantasyland, either: I’d have been over the vapid TV twit the minute my moist eyes alighted on Kunis. Any feminist gripe with the earnest, joke-missing feminine dramatis personae of Knocked Up is hereby nullified. Rachel looks like she knows who Doc Brown is, and she’s great fun to be with. As with most Apatovian fare, there are unexpected turns along the road of male redemption banality. Aldous, played by a Jagger-swaggering Russell Brand, is actually a very likable stage-mincing debauchee, particularly when he calls his groupies “Sorrow Suckers,” thinks genital herpes isn’t a sexual dealbreaker when it isn’t “inflamed,” and swats down an obsequious hotel maître d' (the inexplicably underused Jonah Hill) who proffers a demo tape by saying, “Yeah, I was going to listen to it, but then I decided to carry on with my life.” Gentlehearted laughs are also mined from a frustrated evangelical couple on their honeymoon discovering the joys of beginners’ tantra. Even a throwaway montage of Peter’s late emergence from a cocoon of self-loathing and depression manages to be both touching and real.

Our protagonist’s renascence coincides with the production of a whimsically tragic Dracula musical staged with puppets. Avenue Q with heart might in fact be the best emotional metaphor for this genre of masculine romantic comedy.