Even when their narrative particulars are of the ridiculous, far-fetched variety, Judd Apatow-nurtured projects have demonstrated an impressive ability to ground themselves in true, relatable universal conditions. Forgetting Sarah Marshall continues that trend, focused as it is on one man’s agonized process of getting over the long-term girlfriend who unceremoniously dumped him. Peter Bretter (Jason Segel, who also wrote the script) composes music (or, rather: dark, ominous “tones”) for a C.S.I.-style crime show starring his paramour of five-and-a-half years, Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). When Sarah suddenly breaks up with Peter (another slobbish Apatow man-child liable to spend the day on the couch in sweatpants eating giant bowls of Froot Loops), his stepbrother (Bill Hader) convinces him to stop using the stove to burn photos of Sarah and listening to “Nothing Compares to U” and, instead, take a therapeutic vacation to Hawaii. There, in the film’s main contrivance, he unexpectedly encounters Sarah shacked up with a cartoonishly dissolute English rock star (Russell Brand), leading to even more of the drunken anger and self-loathing that Segel milks for pathos-tinged laughs.
Whereas the star makes smart use of this mopey routine, the same can’t quite be said about the film’s employment of the Apatow template, less because its portrait of Peter’s dejection and subsequent rebound with resort employee Rachel (Mila Kunis) isn’t agreeably sweet than because its earnestness, by the protracted film’s second hour, somewhat dulls the material’s comedic edge. The tricky equilibrium between sentimentality and vulgarity—in other words, between the respective elements aimed at female and male viewers—isn’t steadfastly achieved by Nicholas Stoller, whose directorial debut begins with smashingly funny momentum and then slowly devolves into staid predicaments (Peter and Rachel fall in love, Sarah decides she wants Peter back, a crisis threatens Peter’s newfound happiness, etc.) and reliance on moderately-to-barely amusing supporting turns from 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer and Apatow faves Hader, Paul Rudd, and Jonah Hill. Even so, Segel’s script frequently enlivens pedestrian scenarios with sharp verbal back-and-forths and sudden cutaways to bizarre gags, and in the story’s bookending scenes of heartache and bliss, it also finds—via phallic money shots—a perfectly hilarious encapsulation of the vulnerability that comes from being in love.