Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Review: Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Starring: Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, Russell Brand
Director: Nicholas Stroller
Release Date: April 18, 2008
Running Time: 110 min
MPAA Rating: R
Distributor: Universal Pictures

Forgetting Sarah Marshall is the latest apple to fall from the Judd Apatow family tree of comedy films. For anyone having spent the last few years underground preparing for Y3K, this tree is comprised of a group of friends who take turns writing, directing, and/or starring in each others movies, all packaged and shipped with the Apatow seal of approval. I guess that makes this movie Knocked Up’s baby brother. Or first cousin. I don’t know which. It’s sort of like the mafia, only instead of getting whacked, we get penis jokes. There’s a joke in there somewhere but I’m too tired to write it.

Either way this movie stays true to the golden formula perfected by the Apatow Family over the past few years – focus on a group of men far more immature than their age should allow, force them to deal with some level of reality in their respective circumstance and see how they react. It is the textbook definition of, well, textbook, but it is also real life in the sense that every man struggles with his own evolution into adulthood at some point. Forgetting Sarah Marshall is no different.

Peter Bretter (Jason Segel) and Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell) seem like a picture perfect couple - literally. Peter’s refrigerator, coffee mug, and calendar are plastered with pictures of the two of them together. She is the rising Hollywood star of a “CSI”-esque TV show and he composes music for the same show. He worships the ground she walks on. Then she dumps him. While he’s naked. I mean really naked. Crushed and with nowhere to turn, Peter goes on a hollow one-night-stand-athon. After that exercise in humility does not bear fruitful, and at the behest of his brother Brian (Bill Hader), he decides to go on vacation to clear his head. He picks a place in Hawaii that Sarah had always talked about and off he goes. Great idea, until he shows up and finds her there too; with her new boyfriend, pop sensation Aldous Snow (Russell Brand).

Peter spends the remainder of the movie retracing the steps of his five year relationship with Sarah to see what did and didn’t work, having his nose rubbed in her new relationship, and dim-wittedly flirting with a beautiful hotel employee named Rachel (Mila Kunis), who just happens to be Sarah’s polar opposite. I wonder how it will turn out…?

Movies about mans struggle out of the aftermath of a failed relationship are a dime a dozen. This one doesn’t bring anything new to the table but rather focuses on and exploits his vulnerability within the situation. Peter is not only crushed by the break-up, but he is pushed out of his comfort zone when confronted with the very person who broke his heart. He operates under the delusion that he isn’t running from the awkward situation but rather, forcing himself to grow by sticking out the vacation and being the bigger person. Only he succumbs to the inevitability of having to see for himself what she is up to at all times, regardless of the train wreck it is bound to turn into.

The R-rated comedy has taken many shapes over the past 25 years. In the early 1980’s it took Porky’s and Fast Times at Ridgemont High a topless shot or two and a couple of light drug references to earn the badge of an R-rating. Soon that wasn’t enough. In the late 1990’s, There’s Something About Mary and American Pie taught a new generation of male teens that getting caught with your dingy in an unconventional location, be it a pie or zipper, will garner a laugh. In 2008, keeping up with the times means that audiences have had to bear witness to the arbitrary penis shot, or shots. I picture the process of making Apatow-ian movies as a group of friends in a college film class being split into groups and assigned with the task of making a comedy. Each group takes a turn trying to outdo each other purely for their own amusement and in the interest of continuity and one-upsmanship; each one has to go bigger and farther than the last entry to stay ahead of the curve. It’s the ultimate game of truth or dare and trust me, nobody ever picks truth. I get that shock = funny sometimes, but I just don’t think the world is ready for full frontal male nudity in mainstream comedy. At least not the audience I saw it with, who met each scene with either groans or equally uncomfortable silence. Then again, we are from the Midwest so maybe we’re the prudes.

Being a notch on the Apatow bedpost means the use of the usual supporting players. The mostly annoying Jonah Hill, the mostly funny Bill Hader, and the always hilarious Paul Rudd are all true to type. And his penis aside, Segel not only carried the lead in the movie with surprising ease, he also wrote a pretty good script. The real growth here is the strength of the female cast for once. Kristen Bell and Mila Kunis played the antithesis of each others characters to perfection.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall will not be accused of blazing a path of originality, but lucky for us, it doesn’t have to. Thing is, this one is actually pretty funny. Not punch-you-in-the-face, laugh out loud funny the whole way through, but funny in that “funny because it’s true” sort of way; and anything it lacks in humor it makes up for in heart. Balancing the two meant it could be funny without seeming like it was trying too hard while at the same time being heartfelt without being in danger of being too cheesy.

And there’s the rub.

*** out of ****


Fletch said...

Here's the thing - the "gotcha" moments in these comedies (penis shots, semen on the ear, etc) are totally unnecessary to the quality of the film, but likely helpful to the success of them, as they provide nothing if not buzz and curiousity. The film's wouldn't suffer at all were they not there, though there inclusion doesn't bother me in the least (I'm sure the studios love them).

If nothing, it strikes me as odd that the world isn't ready for full frontal nudity. It doesn't do anything for me, but it does seem strange that so many turn into 1st graders and giggle or squirm at the sight, when the opposite (naked women) earns no such response. Really, it's just sad.

WaywardJam said...

Nice Rub! Okay, with no good way to transition from that, let's talk penis.

I'm with Fletch. I have friends who refuse to see films or have walked out from too much male nudity or man-on-man love. I shudder at the groans or when I see people leave a theater. Sadly, if it were a woman flaunting her lady bidness, they'd be drooling.

I enjoy nudity in a film, male and female.(Shock!) Shamefully gratuitous nudity is lame but we're all naked sometime and films that tell story's in that manner are much more tangible (Eastern Promises come to mind). A lack of Heigl nudity in Knocked Up made many scenes awkward to me.

The world doesn't have a problem with nudity, a huge number of America's repressed citizens do. If they, and Hollywood, wouldn't make such a big deal about it, the film world could be a much better place.

(steps down from soapbox)