Tuesday, April 15, 2008

I Forgot To Remember to Forget Sarah Marshall

When does it become unfair to rate a movie based on its predecessors? Does Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom suffer because of how great Raiders of the Lost Ark is?

More recently, should every movie with Judd Apatow’s name on it be judged against The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up and Superbad, three nearly perfect contemporary comedies?

In the case of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, it’s almost inevitable that you’ll find yourself falling victim to “What would Steve Carell/Seth Rogen/Michael Cera have done in this situation?” but luckily, even while wondering that, the film holds its own and its male star, Jason Segel, fits into the role of the Judd Apatow Male fantastically.

The movie tells the tale of TV composer Peter Bretter (Segel of Freaks & Geeks fame, and also wrote the movie’s screenplay) who gets dumped by his actress/girlfriend, the now-famous-name Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell, from the sadly-canceled-before-its-time Veronica Mars). In response, Peter goes to Hawaii looking for relaxation and to get Sarah off his mind, but, of course, she’s staying at the same hotel he is with her Oasis-esque boyfriend (Russell Brand), and the two ex-lovers compete throughout.

But while staying at the hotel, Peter falls for another woman, Rachel Jansen (Mila Kunis), and the competition goes to a whole other level, including a very literal sexcapades competition.

Bell, Kunis (who has never looked more attractive) and Brand each play their role well, but it’s Segel who plays it best. Whether rocking out in sweatpants yelling Gandalf quotes or singing a very heartfelt rendition of “Dracula’s Lament” from his Dracula musical with puppets (the highlight of the film), you really feel for Segel in the same way you felt for his character on Freaks & Geeks, Nick Andopolis. He’s never annoying in his pity, and is an actor who can do both comedy and drama very well.

Segel also delivers a mostly solid script with only a few mistakes along the way, like a regrettable scene involving two characters humping chess pieces and just one too many penis jokes (a sentence I never thought I’d utter either). But the bad is forgotten with all the good, especially with all the scenes from the show Peter and Sarah work on, Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime (be sure to stay during the credits to see another clip with Bell and Jason Bateman, from the amazing Arrested Development).

At times, Marshall can also feel a bit too conventional; Sarah’s character is obviously not right for Peter, of course they’d be staying in the same hotel, and some of the characters are a little shallow and seem just thrown into the mix. The film also occasionally lingers over to Rom-Com at territory, but stays mostly away from that most unfortunate of genres, due to the much-needed vulgarity of it (Bill Hader: “You don’t need to put your P in a V right now” Jason Segel: “No, I need to B my L on someone’s T’s.”)

Like most any Apatow show or movie, there’s a fantastic supporting cast, including Paul Rudd, former New School student Jonah Hill, the great Bill Hader from SNL, 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer and, for all fans of Undeclared, another show starring Segel and created by Apatow, Lizzie makes a much-appreciated appearance.

Maybe viewers have come to expect a movie with Judd Apatow’s name attached to it to be great, with the success both critically and financially of The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Superbad. But while Sarah Marshall is good, it’s not great.

No comments: