Can we not just say, “it’s really funny!” and leave it at that? Another Total Film, another Judd Apatow-produced yuk-snatcher, twinning heartfelt, wince-wrenching honesty and unrelenting, adolescent-pleasing knob gags. Not that only teenagers will enjoy or engage with this tale of ruthless dumpage. In fact, it’s more Knocked Up than Superbad, chiming best if you’ve ever had your heart broken, stamped on or properly, bloodily shredded – rather than just found out that Tracey in Year Three doesn’t want to slow-dance with you. (If you are 13, trust us, this is not the worst feeling in the world. It will get worse before it gets better).
The scripter and star is Jason Segel, who’s such a good-natured, optimistic performer, it’s hard to imagine the bitterness which must have fuelled the very idea for his first feature script: stumbling across your unfaithful ex when holidaying in Hawaii. You’re crying into your pillow, she’s next door noisily performing the bedroom lambada with her new fella. And it gets worse... Her new fella is Russell Brand. Yes, Britain’s shank-haired stand-up lothario is in a Hollywood movie, as a rock star boffing Kristen Bell (her out of TV’s Veronica Mars, cannily cast as a TV starlet), while Segel’s down-at-heel composer watches with rage, sorrow and half an eye on the pretty receptionist (Mila Kunis).
So, the story is about as predictable as the BBFC warning for an Apatow comedy – ‘contains strong language, sex and sex references’ – but there are enough formula tweaks to stop Forgetting... being forgettable. Making Marshall a celebrity amps up the relationship grief for Segel. She’s always in the spotlight, a constant reminder – while Brand is no cut-out, cardboard villain. His portrayal of Aldous Snow is so guilelessly matey and unrepentantly hedonistic you can’t help warming to the guy. It’s not quite acting, but it’s a mesmerising performance.
Director Nicholas Stoller co-wrote some of the best episodes of college sitcom Undeclared – in which Segel played a slightly darker version of this Joe Schmo – and the pair have an eye for pathetic, misguided (read: most) men. Forgetting… does play broader than Knocked Up; there’s more slapstick, more conventionally comedic set-ups. But it still nails those awkward, face-freezing relationship moments (a dinner party sequence – drenched in red wine and recrimination – is a classic).
And it’s still refreshing to find a rom-com that’s allowed to be this real, from Segel’s full-frontal attempt to prevent Bell leaving him (“If I put clothes on, it’s over!”) to their compromising third act act (keeping it vague, for fear of spoilers). Kunis is lumbered with a flip-flopping personality and the odd tinny, here-comes-the-theme-line, but that just makes Segel more endearing. He can’t even write the perfect partner...