Fri 18 Apr 2008
Seeing Mila, I already can’t remember whatever girl I was supposed to forget.
If your name is Sarah Marshall, I’m sorry. Not because there’s anything wrong with the name but because of how you’ll have to endure a heaping pile of crap this spring now that “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” has been released in theaters.
If you lived in Los Angeles, you probably noticed the many vague billboards around town decrying your name. This was an effort to generate a buzz about the film and get people to hit up their internet site. It’s clever and I know it worked for many people because I’ve read a few message boards on-line that were discussing it and I’ve talked with some friends in L.A. about it as well.
The reason for such a big push for the film is that it comes from the Judd Apatow comedy camp. His films have captured the nation’s funny bone in the last few years with hits like “The 40 Year Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up“. As a fan of the usual suspects involved, I was expecting a funny and slightly raunchy comedy with more than a few bits of comic gold from one of my favorite comedic actors, Paul Rudd. Thankfully, I got just that.
The film centers on Hollywood TV composer Peter Bretter (Peter Segel, who also wrote the film) and his break-up with TV-starlet Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). In an effort to mend his broken heart, he travels to Hawaii … of course, only to find that she’s there too. Hijinks and hilarity ensues.
Perhaps the oddest thing about the film is that for a romantic comedy, it doesn’t have a lot of heart. Sure, I laughed myself silly but as an unabashed sap, I never felt myself actually hope for the character’s well-being. If anything, I was hoping for two of the supporting characters to end up together more so than the leads because I just couldn’t empathize with them. To that end, I chalk much of it up to the deadpan stylings of Segel himself.
Sure, he’s hilarious in “Knocked Up”, but that was a character with no scruples and little screen time, allowing him to be a punchline delivery system, which worked in that context. With “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”, any of his attempts to seem hurt or emotionally damaged come off as schmaltzy and I’m only reminded of his character in the TV show “How I Met Your Mother”. And considering he was about 40% of the reason I stopped watching that show after a few episodes (the main character is far more annoying), centering an entire film around Segel seemed like a risky bet. It also doesn’t help that the musical his character is working on in his spare time bothered me a little because of my protective nature of the Dr. Acula running joke from “Scrubs”.
However, thanks to the strength of everything and everyone around him, it does all work. First, I’d like to mention that Mila Kunis has developed into a very beautiful woman (call me), having now escaped that awkward teenage phase most people go through (and I’m still in). Her character isn’t quite as one-dimensional as these roles typically are, which I appreciated, and is the film’s only sense of heart. Having some experience (probably thanks to “That 70′s show”) with off-beat humor, her comedy also manages to work with her character, even though her place in a film like this isn’t primarily a comedic role.
Almost as important to the film is Russell Brand. He plays a sex-crazed, ex-addict, indie rocker who just happens to be the new guy in Sarah Marshall’s life. This role could easily have been the undoing of it all, as the emotional/comedic line that must be toed here isn’t all that easy. Brand, though, was up for the task and is almost as important to the film’s cuddly core as Kunis – as well as being one of the funniest elements. His take on musicians, relationships and shirts (you’ll get it later) keep this film from running into too many pitfalls.
Adding to the mix are Paul Rudd, Bill Hader and Da’Vone McDonald. Each of them bring very funny moments and help to distract your attention from Segel’s general blandness (and who doesn’t love the idea of Rudd playing a stoner surf-instructor).
There’s also a generous helping of Jack McBrayer (who’s bringing nerdy back with roles like this and in “30 Rock” or “Talladega Nights“) which can be very funny at times, though it’s clear that his subplot is purely the raunchy bit that is meant for those with dirtier minds and hearts (like me).
As is the case with Apatow-related material, there are numerous occasions where it seems the characters are being vulgar for the sake of being vulgar … which while it can be quite funny, I tend to want in small doses. That also goes for Jonah Hill since he seems to play the same sad, sarcastic sack in each film. Is it funny? Usually, but I’m getting a bit bored of seeing it every time. Try acting, Jonah.
One thing I could have surely done without are the multiple shots of Segel’s man-region. I realize there’s a double standard in film when it comes to nudity … but I like that double standard! While I applaud Segel’s courage to bear all on-screen, I very much want a DVD version that cuts those angles or places a CGI ficus tree in front. Pretty please?!?
The long and the short of it is this (awkward sentence placement): Did you like “The 40 Year Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up”? If so, then you’re going to like this one as well and I’m happy to have a comedy worth my time in theaters. For some reason, it feels like it’s been awhile … oh, that’s right … it has been.
I going to have to give “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” just a 3, largely due to the abrupt downturn the film takes about 80% of the way through, but I would place this nearly on the same pedestal as “Knocked Up”, so take that for whatever it means. Make sure to get to the theaters on-time because the beginning sequence spoofing CSI: Miami is hilarious and keep your butt planted for a few seconds once the credits roll, there’s a cameo you shouldn’t miss and a great cover of Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” (yes, I’m being serious).
And I again apologize to the Sarah Marshalls of the world … I promise not to forget you, no matter what Jason Segel says.