Viewer discretion is strongly advised.
Here's the naked truth: Male genitalia is getting unprecedented screen time at the multiplex these days — in mainstream popcorn fare and broad comedies — thanks in large part to comic mogul Judd Apatow (and his band of merry collaborators), who has pledged to shake Americans from their squeamishness about male anatomy in movies. Exhibit A: the Apatow-produced R-rated heartbreak comedy Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which hit Tampa Bay theaters on Friday.
Sarah Marshall's breakout performance isn't delivered by protagonist Jason Segel (of How I Met Your Mother and Freaks and Geeks fame). The movie's most captivating screen presence is Segel's "manhood."
The 28-year-old comedian is presented in his full-frontal glory over the course of a cringe-worthy breakup scene that involves Segel naked, dripping wet and sobbing like a 6-foot-4 baby. No clever Austin Powers-style genital obfuscation with props. No artful lighting to preserve any mystery about Segel's man junk. And for emphasis, the camera cuts away from close-ups of his teary visage (he's being dumped by his girlfriend, Kristin Bell, as the titular Sarah at the time) to wider, phallus-inclusive shots three times.
"There's a fair amount of penis in this movie," says Segel. "I definitely didn't tan, but you've got to do a little grooming, because that makes everything look bigger."
Segel also wrote the film's script, basing the scene on a real-life naked breakup of his own. Still, the actor-writer contemplated inequalities between male and female film nudity before putting his family jewels on display.
"When a woman does nudity in a movie, men immediately switch into a sexual mode," Segel said. "For women, from what I understand, it's not like that. They see a naked, out-of-shape man crying and it's funny — something weird, disturbing and disgusting we can all laugh at."
Apatow has made it a sort of personal crusade to break down one of moviedom's last taboos. In the 2007 faux musical biopic he produced, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Apatow positioned a penis behind the film's star John C. Reilly's head during an orgy scene. As well, the closing credits for another film Apatow produced, Superbad, feature a hilarious illustrated montage of male sexual organs.
"America fears the penis, and that's something I'm going to help them get over," Apatow said in an interview in December. "I'm gonna get a penis in every movie I do from now on. ... It really makes me laugh in this day and age, with how psychotic our world is, that anyone is troubled by seeing any part of the human body."
In letting it all hang out, Segel joins a select boys club of big-name stars who have gone memorably bottomless. Among them: Tom Cruise, Bruce Willis Daniel Day-Lewis, Richard Gere and Harvey Keitel have bared all on film. Ewan MacGregor deserves special notice. The Scottish actor who played Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequels has flashed his light-saber four times in independent films.
"If doing full frontal gets me into that club, I'm happy to do it," Segel said.
Ironically, the spike in male nudity comes at a time when actresses are more and more reluctant to take it off on film for fear of being immortalized in the buff on websites dedicated to nudie film stills and screen grabs.