Forgetting the Penis, or Why Marshall Flopped Flaccid
by Joseph Kirkland
Last week’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall set critics in a tizzy (though not an American audience still not sated with Jackie Chan’s struggles with English enunciation) with writer/star Jason Segel’s baring of his “manhood,” or cock and balls, if you will.
Jason Segel’s penis’s appearance no less than four times during the running time of the near-screwball comedy blew the minds of critics and entertainment pseudo-newsies used to women flashing their ta-tas while their male counterparts’ nether regions remained safely stowed.
He loves penis even more sans beard.
Articles aplenty referenced Judd Apatow’s now famous decree ad nauseum. Following a screening of Walk Hard where people stormed out after being subjected to a flaccid flange idling next to star John C. Reilly’s abnormally rhombus-like head, the “king of geeks” demanded (presumably in jest, a word that does not exist in the EW lexicon) that a turtle pop its head in every picture released with his name attached.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall happened to fall next in the raunchy Apatow assembly line (Drillbit Taylor not counted for its (a) family nature and (b) being swept under the Universal rug) with Segel’s Sgt. Pepper set for its big debut.
Why do you think they’re lonely?
However, the bitter nude break-up scene was written not to meet some company’s TPS-like demands; it came from Segel’s real life, and herein lies the true uncomfortable nature of Jason Segel, his movie, and his penis.
In every character he has portrayed, Segel has brought an unnerving desire to belong and to be accepted, despite his awkwardly large frame, teenage insecurity, Peter Boyle brow, and perverted Brando intensity.
a slightly younger Jason Segel being emo, watch his five best clips as ur-ex boyfriend Eric on Undeclared
Segel’s avatar in Forgetting Sarah Marshall Peter Brenner (not to be confused with his character from How I Met Your Mother, whose name is Marshall) presents perhaps the perfect distillation of these qualities and may be the reason Superbad-size crowds did not line the block to see Forgetting Sarah Marshall (or it could be blamed on Universal’s poor linking of its guerilla marketing campaign to the film itself).
Interpret their expressions as you will.
When Marshall fell to Harry the Seeker of Martial Arts Oz, Paul Dergarabedian and his ilk again questioned the continued commercial viability of the Apatow brand following the misses of Walk Hard, that unfortunate Wilson thing, and now Marshall.
Sorry! Girls Aren’t Allowed To Play
The problem with lumping Marshall with 40 Knocked Up Super Virgins lies in the aspect for which everyone from Slate to Katherine Heigl have questioned/slammed the Apatow films: their incessant focus on “bromances,” but more specifically the dongle.
“I don’t want to see it. And you definitely so don’t want to see it. So let’s call it a day, okay, Judd?”
As Apatow noted following the Walk Hard screening and since, Americans have a real hang-up about their diddles, and both of Apatow’s films (and Superbad) hone in and examine this fear to absurd extremes.
Steve Carrell’s 40 Y.O. Virgin character fears his phallus as much as the ficitional Mike Meyers, but the former hides in a shell of arrested adolescence rather than an inverted Kirk mask.
“Hey, maybe if we treated women like human beings instead of trophy objects meant to show our male peers that we’re no longer the twerpy Jewboys who were always picked last in gym, we wouldn’t be such miserable assholes.” “Nah.”
Rogen’s Knocked Up pater familias Ben Stone cannot grapple with the breeding power of his wang while the adolescent Seth in Superbad grows an unhealthy visual fixation on his trouser snake to mask his fear of realizing the emotional and social growth it will soon necessitate.
Ben Stone: “I’M THE BABY! GOTTA LOVE ME!”
All of these characters want to remain children, to deny the biological imperative of their lil’ Abners. In this bro-logy, the penis remains “the ding-a-ling,” a joke and a badge rather than a one-eyed purple people creator. Hence, no schlongs in sight.
Jason Segel loves the cock
Segel’s Peter, though, wants to use his penis. Though he may not have fully matured beyond middle school peeping, worrying, and crying, like Ted Mosby at the end of episode one of Segel’s sitcom How I Met Your Mother he is ready to take the next step into something more.
He has no circle of bros, only his step-brother on whom he can rely. When he hangs brain, he stands emotionally naked and bare, wanting acceptance for his insecurities and human failings. Instead, the titular Marshall leaves for the obscenely secure, famous, and confident uber-male in Russell Brand.
Nick Andopolis: Riding On The Groove Line
Peter fails utterly at being single, unable to enjoy the cockiness of penis. He has matured/been tamed and wishes not to return to his primordial state of stale Froot Loops. Even bullshitting in a classic Apatow circle of Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, and Jack McBrayer, he feels empty and alone.
Enter the impossibly forgiving and understanding Mila Kunis. A woman who knows the ache of heart, she has been burned by the alpha and yearns for Peter’s beta. The end completes the inversion of classic screwball formula: Ralph Bellamy/John Krasinski gets the girl because of his honesty and earnestness (symbol = penis).
Marshall & Lily: a couple like the kind you meet in real life
Segel ends the same place as his mentor: in order to achieve happiness, we men must not only adapt but need to be understood. All of the Apatow characters seek acceptance by the “real world,” except Peter starts with awareness of the outside and desires desperately to remain. He has moved beyond the high school/collegiate problem of not getting high and shooting the shit. His struggle lies in fully exposing himself outside of merely the private setting of his apartment and instead on the stage in front of those he cares about.
And to many Americans, maybe that’s not as funny as a book full of penises outfitted as spaceships and army men. Maybe America is not ready to confront its insecurities of the nards so head on. Or maybe a shirtless McConaughey and a witless Chan are simply more entertaining than Jason Segel wailing like a banshee in a ball on the floor.
Somewhere, A.O. Scott cries.
Joseph Kirkland hangs brain at Bitten Tongue
SARAH MARSHALL: NEVER FORGET
“I Forgot To Remember To Forget Her” – Bob Dylan
“Never Forget” – Fleetwood Mac
“I Forgot To Be Your Lover” – William Bell
“Am I That Easy To Forget” – Lee Hazelwood
“Don’t Forget About Me” – Dusty Springfield
PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING:
“Wait, whoa…I tongued his WHAT?”