Movie Reviews

Half-Ass Movie Review: Forgetting Sarah Marshall (May 8)

Judd Apatow has achieved what Quentin Tarantino’s tried to do for more than a decade. No, not finding a way to somehow impregnate Uma Thurman’s feet. The other thing Tarantino’s tried to do: He’s become a franchise. And not just a franchise – a solid, dependable franchise.

Quentin Tarantino has spent years in a producer role on a variety of movies, and he clearly thinks his name will bring in moviegoers, even without taking an active creative role in the projects. Unfortunately, Quentin’s friends tend to make torture porn and schlocky throwbacks, and his producer credit doesn’t really carry a lot of weight. Judd Apatow, thought, has a whole group who find the same things funny that he does. His producer credit on Anchorman or Superbad actually seems to mean something – they’re movies that Apatow would have made himself if he had more time. Forgetting Sarah Marshall fits in so seamlessly with his own body of work that it’s easy to forget that Judd Apatow didn’t write the script.

Instead, the script comes from star Jason Segel (How I Met Your Mother), a longtime member of the Apatow Troupe. Segel plays Peter Bretter, a composer working on a Dracula musical. With puppets. His TV star girlfriend, the titular Sarah Marshall (played by Kristen Bell of Veronica Mars and Heroes)) breaks up with him. Trying to shake off his depression, Peter goes to Hawaii for a vacation, and ends up staying in the same hotel as Sarah and her new rock star boyfriend. Awkward hilarity ensues.

It sounds like a sitcom premise, but it’s executed with a real flair. Segel’s script is really honest, often painfully so. The man wrote an incredibly uncomfortable frontal nude scene for himself, not to mention multiple scenes where he weeps openly and hilariously. Anybody familiar with Segel’s work knew he could carry a lead role, but I had no idea he could write a killer script.

The cast is excellent. Aside from the aforementioned Segel and Bell, a few of the Apatow regulars make memorable appearances. Jonah Hill, Bill Hader, and Paul Rudd all get good laughs in small roles, especially Rudd as a stoner surfing instructor. (It’s totally OK to have a man crush on Paul Rudd, right? Right?) Jack McBrayer of 30 Rock has a fine role as a clueless newlywed, which leads to some of the most uncomfortable sex scenes ever. Mila Kunis is completely charming as Rachel, the hotel clerk with whom Peter finds himself smitten. That came as a surprise, because I was not a fan of her TV appearances. That 70’s Show was like nails on a chalkboard and Family Guy is like nails on my soul. I just expected from tolerable, but she’s funny and likeable and fits in perfectly. There’s William Baldwin doing a wicked parody of David Caruso, and a brief appearance by Jason Bateman. And if you see the movie and blurt out “Hey, that’s Tammi Littlenut from Strangers with Candy!”, we will be friends forever. But the real standout is Russell Brand as Sarah’s new boyfriend, Aldus Snow.

Snow is arrogant and pretentious, but he’s also three-dimensional. He has moments of likeability, but they’re cloaked in such a thick layer of turd that you almost feel guilty on those occasions when you do like him. When he’s first introduced, he seems almost cartoonish, but he just keeps getting funnier and more real. It’s a combination of great writing and an excellent performance.

The amazing thing about the script is how real the interactions are. There’s a terrific scene near the end where both couples have dinner together, and the awkwardness and shifting allegiances are so genuine and layered. Everybody at the table finds things they like and dislike about everybody else, and it’s really rewarding to see it play out. You can only imagine my excitement to find out that Segel is going to be bringing his writing skills to the Muppets franchise.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall sits nicely alongside The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up as an almost perfectly-constructed comedy. It fits in with Apatow’s world, even though Judd didn’t write or direct it. Peter has a lot in common with Andy Stitzer and Ben Stone, without being derivative of either one. Like those two protagonists, only a woman can motivate Peter to get his life together and stop coasting. It’s an interesting theme to revisit, and more importantly, it rings true. And like those other movies, Jason Segel is clearly tapping into some real world trauma to come up with such an honest portrayal of rejection.

Excellent cast, fantastic writing, and a big giant heart. That’s what we can expect from Judd Apatow and his troupe, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall delivers on all counts.

Five Beans

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