Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Girl I Can't Forget

In news that should surprise no one (but should be a relief for the stumble that was Drillbit Taylor) Judd Apatow's newly produced Forgetting Sarah Marshall is an absolute success. The film deals with break-ups similar to how 40 Year Old Virgin dealt with sex and Knocked Up dealt with pregnancy; hilariously comic moments laced with emotionally honesty. The film is as fine a comedy as yet to be put out by this increasingly solid comic dream-team and Jason Segel steps it up to show the world what Freaks & Geeks and HIMYM fans already know, that Jason Segel is comedy gold. It's a rare actor that can have you in stitches at his pain and misery but Segel fills the theater with laughter with each new bout of crying.
The film's premise is simple enough. TV composer Peter Bretter (Segel) is dating the star of the police procedural drama he works on, Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). Peter is doting (maybe a little too doting) and not quite as compatible with Sarah as he thinks and right at the start of the film he is dumped, a fact made all the more embarrassing that he is completely naked (the film is more than happy to show you as much flaccid Segel meat as possible). Peter becomes a total mess and follows up a suggestion by his best-friend/step-brother (the always delightful Bill Hader) goes to Hawaii to, well, forget about Sarah Marshall. Unfortunately upon arriving at the resort Peter runs into Sarah and her new beau the Bono-esque Aldous Snow (British star Russel Brand). Peter sinks further into misery, but not the audience. He eventually comes to grips with the break-up through the aide of an customer-service rep Rachel, played by the effervescent Mila Kunis, along with a variety of oddball hotel workers and guests.
The film is confidently scripted by Segel and collaborator/director Nick Stoller. It not only quickly sketches its characters and then moves smoothly from sight gags, to killer one-liners to hilarious set-pieces (many of which concern a Dracula musical...with puppets). This is the kind of film where one misses jokes because they're so busy laughing at the previous one. As a comedy it's an absolute success. The film fares less well under the relationship microscope. Rachel and Peter connect more easily then one might expect and one never sees what initially attracted Sarah to Peter. The film also trots out an awful lot of characters in it's second act and while they are all funny the plot loses some of it's momentum. The film also relies heavily on a sort of male-biased logic in order to solve a third act complication. I've talked with several women about this and across the board it seems agreed upon that Peter's actions are irredeemable. This won't be helping anyone trying to make the case for Apatow's movies trending toward a male heavy bias.

In spite of these tiny issues FSM is a constant laugh-generator and a great time at the movies. Jason Segel shows himself to be a proper leading man in the Apatow group (I would venture to say he's got far greater range than Seth Rogen [though Rogen may have superior delivery]) and Mila Kunis works wonderfully on the big screen. She's sexy, charismatic and comes off as very genuine in what would otherwise be the bland "good-girl" part. Russel Brand makes a distinct impression as the deviant Aldous Snow and I wouldn't be surprised to have him at least as well known as Steve Coogan after this role. As for Kristen Bell she doesn't quite get to demonstrate the range she showed on Veronica Mars but she does get to show her ample comic chops. Other notable members of the ensemble include Paul Rudd as a stoner surfing instructor, Jack McBrayer as a naive newlywed and Jonah Hill shows up as a greeter with a crush on Aldous Snow. It's a group like that which makes Forgetting Sarah Marshall near impossible to forget.


c_henry802 said...

i've been meaning to see this movie all weekend, but didn't get the chance. huge fan of segel, loved him in freaks and undeclared.

i really hope that he does have the range required to become a leading man. although ive neevr seen how i met your mother, his characters in freaks, undeclared, and fsm seem a little familiar. regardless, im incredibly psyched to see this

El Gigante said...

You really ought to check out the first season of How I Met Your Mother, now available on DVD. It's definitely the best three-camera "traditional" sitcom on TV today and I think it holds up very well against The Office and 30 Rock. As great as Neil Patrick Harris is on the show (and he is mighty great) Segel is definitely the real comedy secret weapon.

I won't lie, his character in the movie isn't THAT different from his other Apatow stuff, that said it's important to remember to a large chunk of that audience that he is a complete mystery. I will say is a very different in the movie from his character in Knocked Up.