Saturday, March 13, 2010

Archive: 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall'

Movie Review
Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)

Jason Segel certainly doesn't mind bearing it all for the sake of comedy. Fresh from the shower, he stands naked during an emotionally devastating and humiliating breakup. And there's his penis right at the very beginning of the movie. And then we see it again during a briefer scene near the end almost like a welcome return. Things come crashing down right before him as he stands nude, and then something new begins, while nude again. It brings a certain circularity to "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," the raucous comedy written by Jason Segel himself, and it also proves the universal hilarity of nakedness. It appears that Apatow has passed on the torch to his colleague Segel of "How I Met My Mother" and without fault. Segel has a wit in his writing and has a brand of humor that equals Apatow's, which allows this comedy to rank among the latest heavy-hitters "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "Knocked Up," and "Superbad."

The girl is named Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell), and she stars on an NBC show entitled "Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime," a CSI type show that mostly deals with masturbating killers. She stars opposite William Baldwin, who plays the tough guy who makes absurdly tasteless wisecracks about each grisly crime. It's a pitch-perfect hoot. Peter Bretter (Jason Segel) composes the ominous background music for the show, but he absolutely hates it. He's also composing a rock opera about Dracula looking for love, which is touchingly humorous and plays an integral part much later. I dare not give any more away. So, anyway, she breaks up with him. After 5 years of being together, Sarah is finally tired of using Peter as her personal handbag carrier at red carpet events and leaves him completely hanging. He's devastated, and has no idea what to do with himself. After drinking endlessly and participating in plenty of rebound sex, Peter consults his married step-brother ("SNL" player and "Superbad"'s Bill Hader) who advises him to take a trip away to clear his head.

Peter escapes to a Hawaiian island resort where his worst nightmare greets him. Sarah just so happens to be there with her new lanky British rock star boyfriend, Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), whose accent, cocky personality, and fan-blown, curly black hair will grind at you. Lucky for Peter, though, there's somebody on his side. Rachel Jenson (Mila Kunis of "That 70's Show") is a kind, laid-back, and caring hotel clerk at the front desk who lets Peter stay in a $6,000 per night suite for absolutely nothing. That is, until some celebrity who can actually afford it shows up. She's gorgeous, and she takes an interest in Peter's agony, always trying to cheer him up. They hang out a couple times, and we can already guess where it goes from there. The joy of this movie, however, isn't the destination but the getting there. The scenes at the resort, which make up the majority of the movie, are absolutely hilarious with frequent gut-busting laughs.

Jason Segel's body is that of a pale dinner role, and one really can't help but wonder how he gets the girls. His attractiveness is not in his drooping and doughy physique and his hanging posture and flatfooted walk, although those are all endearing characteristics; it's in the fact that he's just a pleasant guy who has the ability to fall apart every so often, and in doing so, he speaks from the male heart. He brings a level of humility amongst all of the movie's raunchy behavior, which is trademark to Apatow features. Behind it all, the humor is rooted in relatability and truth because, also like all other Apatow features, the movie has a heart full of warmth and forgiveness.

It's a tough task to balance so many characters at once, but "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" does it magnificently. There's a variety of male confusion represented in the supporting cast, who are all vital and do a great job. Bumping into each of these characters is like visiting an amusing acquaintance who you're always happy to see. Jonah Hill of "Superbad" plays a humorously cringe-inducing waiter at the resort who persistently sucks up to Aldous, wanting him to listen to his demo. And Paul Rudd of "Knocked Up" is priceless as a stoner surfer. And even the newcomers hold their own. Jack McBrayer of "30 Rock" is painfully awkward as a virgin honeymooner unsure on how to please his new wife. Bell pulls off the difficult task of creating sympathy behind a woman who's meant to be a stone-cold bitch, and Kunis, too, is adorable as the charming rebound girl. Even Brand as the despicable British rocker has ideal comic timing.

Judd Apatow and his team have concocted a new genre: the romantic comedy for guys. The fun of these movies comes from keeping true to the Apatow brand by mixing and matching different recognizable faces and sustaining that raunchy-tender balance, and even though it feels pretty familiar by now, it never fails in feeling fresh each time. Except that "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" is considered, rather than a romantic comedy, a romantic disaster movie. And so it is. We are watching one guy's journey through pain, making for the first truly great comedy of the year.

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