The defining moment in Jason Segel's young career came in the dearly departed TV series Freaks And Geeks, when Segel serenaded would-be girlfriend Linda Cardellini with Styx's creepy ballad "Lady." For Cardellini's character, who opened the door to their relationship more out of pity than desire, it's a nightmarish scenario, but Segel gives a performance that's awkward and embarrassing, yet also sweet, disarming, and courageous. Judd Apatow helped carry those open-hearted-but-crazy qualities over to Undeclared, and they're front and center in the brutally funny Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which Segel wrote and Apatow produced. As the spurned boyfriend of a TV star, Segel leaves himself exposed—literally, in the first scene—and scores painful laughs out of his petulant reaction to a broken heart.
First shown sitting around in his sweatpants, working through a trough of sugary cereal, Segel doesn't present himself as much of a catch, so his longtime girlfriend Kristen Bell can be forgiven for being disenchanted. A musician with dreams of staging a rock opera (with puppets) based on Dracula, Segel currently logs time composing the ominous music cues for Bell's CSI-like TV show, but his lack of ambition hangs on their relationship like a lead weight. After Bell breaks up with him, Segel decides to unwind at the Hawaiian resort she'd always talked about, but awkwardness ensues when he discovers that she's vacationing there with her new rock-star boyfriend (Russell Brand). However, Segel finds a sympathetic ear in the resort's pretty customer-service representative (Mila Kunis), who helps him through his frequent crying jags.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall could be pegged as yet another Apatow tale of arrested adolescence, but Segel has always played more a serial monogamist than a horndog, and his earnest, self-deprecating screen persona graces the film's crudest moments with a kind of innocence. He and director Nicholas Stoller also spread the laughs around to a fine ensemble, including Apatow regulars like Paul Rudd and Jonah Hill, 30 Rock's Jack McBrayer as a spooked Christian newlywed, SNL's Bill Hader as Segel's reluctant confidante, and a scene-stealing William Baldwin as Bell's smarmy, David Caruso-like TV co-star. If the film has a nagging flaw, it's that the women are bright but slightly underserved, especially in a mean-spirited third-act scene that throws the tone off completely. Until then, Forgetting Sarah Marshall gives another Apatow player a much-deserved day in the sun. Maybe Jay Baruchel or Martin Starr will soon get turns in the rotation.