Under the imprimatur of Judd Apatow comes Forgetting Sarah Marshall, a comedy of heartbreak and heartmend. Apatow personally has directed only The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, but as a producer his name apparently has come to mean something to patrons of a certain type of comedy — the Will Ferrell type, in specific — just as the name of Wes Craven means something apropos of a certain type of horror. (Or as the name of Tommy Bahama means something apropos of apparel, or Papa John’s apropos of aliment.) The director of record on this one is the new name of Nicholas Stoller, and the novice screenwriter doubles as the star, Jason Segel, who envisions for himself the role of a would-be serious composer, cranking out mood music for a network crime drama when he would rather be devoting his time to a Dracula stage musical. When, that is, he’s not devoting his time to eating Fruit Loops out of a mixing bowl on the couch. (The broader type of comedy signified by the name of Apatow is “guy” comedy.) The vocational aspect of the role, in any case, straightaway gets put on the back burner in favor of the personal aspect: the dumped boyfriend of the lead actress on the aforementioned crime drama.
The main point of interest in the movie, to get right down to it, is Segel’s penis. (“Would you take a look at my penis?” is an actual line of dialogue he has written for himself. It could just as well have been the advertising slogan.) To connect this point of interest with the supporting-part penis, the small-name penis, in the Apatow-produced Walk Hard is to raise the alert to a potential trend. The old reliable tush shot — as in the Apatow-produced Drillbit Taylor, featuring Owen Wilson’s tush, or in pretty much any Will Ferrell comedy — could have been expected after a while to reap diminishing returns in audience response, much as exclamations of “Shit!” and “Fuck!” could not forever be guaranteed laugh-getters. The audience, whether or not it ever grows up, will tend to become jaded. The envelope will have to be pushed. Trend-spotters, at this stage, can but speculate on how many more penises we’ll have to go through before the stakes must be raised to a tumescent penis. That type of penis, in covered form, or what we may call the pup-tent shot, has of course been a surefire side-splitter for some time, but the envelope will eventually have to be not just pushed, but torn open.
As we await that breakthrough, we might care to ponder the more general question of why the male genitals, surely not inherently hilarious, are nonetheless deemed ripe for comedy while the female genitals, quite unlike breasts, can elicit only a hushed rapture. (The briefness of our glimpses of Segel’s jewels might seem at first blush to be predicated on the comic principle of “timing,” although when we remember the lengthy exposure in Walk Hard, predicated on the comic principle of “milking,” we might also have to consider modesty. At least till we remember the DVD freeze-frame.) Before I myself can make headway in pondering this difference between the sexes, I would first have to get past the question of why Jason Segel’s penis, in particular, was thought to be funny. Thought by him, beforehand, and manifestly thought by the screening audience around me. I’m stuck for an answer. Maybe it would help if I knew who Jason Segel is. A quick check of the Internet Movie DataBase shows me that I have seen no more than one of his twenty, television-heavy acting credits, namely Knocked Up, and in all honesty I don’t remember him in it. So maybe I’m in a poor position properly to appreciate his penis. Would Will Ferrell’s have struck me funnier? Edgier? Braver? Embarrassinger? Something more, there, to ponder. And if a trend indeed materializes, many things more to ponder in the future.
For the rest, the movie gives the game away early when the schlumpy protagonist accidentally-on-purpose runs into his ex-girlfriend at her preferred Hawaiian resort, where she’s cavorting with a lavishly tattooed British rocker, and where the copper-toned hostess at the check-in desk immediately jumps out at us as (a) a ready and willing shoulder for the schlump to cry on and (b) a couple of miles prettier than the ice-sculpture Hollywood girlfriend. Russell Brand’s self-absorbed rock star (“Yeah,” he responds to the fan who had slipped him a demo tape, “I was going to listen to that, but then I just carried on living my life”) and Paul Rudd’s dopehead surfer (“When life gives you lemons, just say ‘Fuck the lemons’ and bail”) are funny enough for skit-level comedy, but scarcely for comedy of character.
The Forbidden Kingdom, a fitting addition to the juvenilia of Rob Minkoff (Stuart Little, The Haunted Mansion, etc.), concerns a bullied Boston teenager and martial-arts film aficionado (Michael Angarano), who gets transported through the Gate of No Gate to a kind of kung-fu Shangri-La, where he learns to fight from the best (Jackie Chan, Jet Li), while fulfilling a prophecy of returning a magic golden staff to Five Elements Mountain, freeing the immortal Monkey King from bondage, and overthrowing the wicked Jade Warlord. Just your average modern adolescent fantasy. The film, which begins with a literal dream, really doesn’t feel so much like a dream as like a prelude to a dream. Or in another word, a soporific.
The First Saturday in May is a digital documentary by The Hennegan Brothers (as they bill themselves, like a trapeze act) about the run-up to, and the actual running of, the 132nd Kentucky Derby. Their focus falls primarily on the trainers, although, a bit blindered, not on the actual training; and their assemblage of interviews and intimate moments (most intimate of all, the faces during races) is workmanlike at best. There is, or should be, an intrinsic drama in the events, but even though most of what I know about horse racing comes from Dick Francis mystery novels, I’ve gleaned enough from the sports page to know ahead of time which horse will win, and to know that the planned climax will be diminished by what happened next at the Preakness. (If you were on a spiritual retreat in the Himalayas in 2006, I’ll allow you your surprise.) There could still have been more drama had we gotten to know the people better. And it would be futile to wish for more racetrack ambience without wishing simultaneously for 35mm.