Here's my review from The American Conservative of the comedy from a couple of months ago:
Ever since the collapse of the Hollywood studio system, film productions have become expensive and time-consuming to get off the ground because each new movie is an independent business enterprise demanding complex negotiations.
If Shakespeare were a film auteur today with all the public acclaim he'd deserve, so much of his time would be tied up taking meetings that he'd be lucky to get a bare dozen of his scripts ever made into movies. Hollywood insiders would gossip about Bill Shakespeare's legendary unfilmed screenplay about Falstaff: every time his people finally hammered out a deal with a funny fat guy -- whether John Belushi, John Candy, or Chris Farley -- the star would drop dead.
Comic screenwriter and producer Judd Apatow has been pursuing a lower cost and quicker business model for making movies. Apatow's resembles a theatre company in which scripts are written to fit the pre-existing talents of his ensemble. When putting together the critically acclaimed but shortlived television series Freaks and Geeks (about high school students) and Undeclared (college students), he assembled a team of funny (but rather funny-looking) young men such as Apatow's alter ego, actor Seth Rogen. When the shows were canceled and nobody else in the business rushed to employ them, Apatow taught them to write screenplays for themselves to star in.
The first film Apatow wrote and directed, 2005's "40 Year Old Virgin" (which took in $109 million at the domestic box office on a lean $26 million budget), featured his team in supporting roles. Rogen finally became a star last year in Apatow's "Knocked Up" ($149 million). Meanwhile, Rogen had outgrown the screenplay he'd co-written about high school seniors, "Superbad," so Rogen's role was taken by his alter ego, Jonah Hill, who looks like his little brother. When it earned $121 million in U.S. theatres, Apatow was declared a brand name.
Now, another Apatow protégé, Jason Segel (Rogen's tall stoner housemate in "Knocked Up"), has penned the consistently funny and sometimes appealing romantic break-up film "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." Segel stars in it himself as a boozy, self-pitying schlub whose TV starlet girlfriend has left him for a cretinous but laciviously charming rock star (played by English comic Russell Brand in his first, and definitely not last, American role).
The cultural import of Team Apatow's popular sex comedies has been much debated among 20-somethings. 20th Century artists and entertainers tended to see their role as shocking the bourgeoisie, but will there eventually be any left to shock? Apatow both continues that trend, concocting news lows in raunchiness, while also preaching ever more openly his traditional values of monogamy, sobriety, and industry.
On the one hand, sounding like a Weimar Era manifesto-writer, Apatow recently proclaimed, "America fears the penis, and that's something I'm going to help them get over… I'm gonna get a penis in every movie I do from now on." Hence, in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," we are treated to the frontal sight of a naked Jason Segel bawling as his girlfriend, played by Kristen Bell of Veronica Mars, dumps him. (Segel recalls that when this actually occurred in his own life, as he emerged from the shower, "All I kept thinking was, 'This is the funniest thing that's ever happened to anybody. I cannot wait until she leaves so I can start writing this down.'")
On the other hand, the plot of "Sarah Marshall," like most films sponsored by Aptaow, a devoted family man, offers an endorsement of bourgeois values, particularly the threat of venereal diseases spread by the promiscuous likes of Sarah's new boyfriend.
Similarly, "Sarah Marshall" is even more adamant than "Knocked Up" in pushing the diligent Apatow's crusade against marijuana. Apatow has said, "My main intention is to show that drugs lead them on the road to nowhere. … . Every guy I worked with who smokes pot is less funny, or their music got lame." Thus, veteran Apatow ensemble member Paul Rudd plays a Hawaiian surfing instructor whose brain is so baked that his character is not even amusing.
Is Apatow a force for good or bad in our society? Apatow himself can't say. He admits, "And I find that people don't pick up on that [anti-marijuana] message… even if I hit it really hard." More likely, the bongheads sitting on their couches watching his characters sit on their couches smoking dope conclude that their lives must also be worthy of being on DVD.
Rated R for sexual content, language and some graphic nudity.