Forgetting Sarah Marshall has become instantly famous for one of the most dubious reasons I can imagine: the lead actor Jason Segel, who is un-coincidentally also the screenwriter, goes full-frontal in one of the film's first scenes. Setting aside that fact that there have in fact been penises in movies before - why, just last week I was watching Guy Maddin's Cowards Bend the Knee, in which a man with no hands watches enviously as another man urinates, shown in lovingly detailed close-up - I suppose it isn't a small deal that a mainstream comedy made in the back half of the '00s (the most nudity-phobic decade of cinema since the end of the Production Code) would prominently feature the male organ.

Of course, anything shocking in art is only valuable if it has a point, and the point of Segel's dangling willy is the metaphor it enables. That's the other thing that Forgetting Sarah Marshall has become instantly famous for: it's the break-up movie where the male lead is so wracked with pain that he spends a great part of the film sobbing hysterically. See, he's naked and vulnerable! You get that right? How he's naked physically because he's really naked emotionally? Of course you do, I'd be frankly a bit concerned if you didn't.

I think it needs to be said: that a film released in the year 2008 whose main point of bravery is claiming that men are sad after long-term relationships end can be praised as "subversive" is as good an argument as we can possibly need to declare once and for all that our culture is too far gone to be worth trying to save.

So we've got: a man's girlfriend leaves him and he's incredibly unhappy and the two hours that follow show him coming to grips with his emotions despite the mechanisms in place to force American men into certain patterns of behavior. Yessir, I'd say it sounds like an Apatow Productions effort. Happily, it's a far better film than some of what Judd Apatow has produced, e.g. Drillbit Taylor. Not that this is a major triumph. And sure enough, though it's far from the worst of its kin, it's also far from the best. I'd say this is the first truly minor Apatow film, affable throughout and not without its points of thematic interest, but mostly just a bit too pokey to be much use to anyone.

This was going to happen, sooner or later. The Apatow formula is a fairly limited one, and a body can only take so many tales of flabby Everymen coming to grips with masculinity in the 21st Century before they start to run together. Furthermore, and I feel like a grouch for saying this, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is for me the Apatow film where it finally becomes impossible to say "okay" to the overwhelming sexism on parade. This is a contextual problem: Knocked Up had a couple of genuinely great female characters and Superbad was partly about how its male protagonists had a hard time thinking of women as people. But Sarah Marshall strikes just the right balance to call the greatest possible attention to the rather shitty way that women are depicted: it's the first Apatow project with a female character who clearly deserves better than the disrespect that the audience is asked to give her.

I'm referring to Sarah Marshall herself, played by the always-delightful Kristen Bell. There's not honestly a great deal that Bell can do with the role, who like every woman in a film written by Apatow or his disciples doesn't actually bear much similarity to the actual women walking this planet every day; but she wrings what she can out of the role, particularly a few scenes near the end where we find that Sarah has been going through her own traumatic post-breakup process. Somehow, though, all of that is wiped away in one of the sourest endings in any comedy for the last couple of years: the film calls her the Devil and we're meant to agree, and then just for kicks it ladles on a completely superfluous pile of humiliation for the character in the final seconds. Sexism alone is barely enough to label this; "misogyny" is harsh but I don't know what else to say about a film that does everything it can to make the ex-girlfriend not seem bitchy for most of its running time and then toss her out the airlock with a smirky "bitch deserved it."

God, I belabored that point more than I'd expected to. I'm sorry. There's just a feeling you get that feels wrong, you know? Forgetting Sarah Marshall hasn't quite been sitting right for me ever since I watched it.

Admittedly, I'd be more inclined to forgive the film's wobbly gender politics if it were consistently funny, just like we all did with Superbad. It's not that the movie isn't funny. And it's not even that it's supposed to be gag-a-minute, either; like all the Apatow films, there's some seriousness running through the whole story and plenty of scenes exist apparently just to make the audience feel bummed out. It's that first-time director Nicholas Stoller apparently doesn't have much of an idea how to construct a gag, or maybe he's just not inclined to try. The Apatow Family Filmmakers have been tending more and more towards observational hanging-out style comedy with every film, and setting Sarah Marshall in the tropics is the ultimate indication that we're just here to see some laid-back good-time play.

Thus do we have professional laid-back dudes like Paul Rudd and Jonah Hill being laid-back, while the more actively comic Jack McBrayer has to do all the heavy lifting himself on a subplot about a neurotic conservative Christian having problems with the sex act. It's funny, but not because it's directed to be funny (Stoller's camera is as laid-back as the script; the images never possess a trace of kinetic energy). Not one second in the film is unpleasant, for even the bummer scenes have the wistful ring of truth. But I do mind how much of it is no more than pleasant.

The one outstanding exception is Russell Brand as Aldous Snow, Sarah's new rocker boyfriend. Adjectives fail me: Aldous is a remarkable creation of manic energy and cod-Zen musings who can hardly be explained, only experienced The film is palpably lighter when he's onscreen, and for those moments, which I'm glad to say are fairly numerous, Forgetting Sarah Marshall becomes the movie it should have been, a fair successor to the smutty farce of Knocked Up instead of the kind of agreeable fluff where I find myself thinking things like "Oh, it's his cock. How droll." It's hard not to notice that this film has a first-time writer and a first-time director; the presence of people who almost know what they're doing can be felt behind every stalled gag and half-finished idea.