Monday, April 21, 2008

Vulgar and Hilarious: Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Judd Apatow and company have been churning out film after film for a little over a year now, and for every classic “Knocked Up” or hilarious “Superbad”, there’s an equally devastating “Walk Hard.” Fortunately, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” falls safely into the first category, and it’s even an improvement upon the earlier Apatow fare.

Jason Segel stars as Peter, a likeable composer for a crappy CSI-style crime series. His girlfriend, the immensely popular star of the show, dumps him unexpectedly and the break-up is very hard on Peter. His friend recommends a nice vacation, and Peter decides to head to Hawaii, only to encounter his former girlfriend, who has brought along her new boyfriend.

The best thing “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” has going for it is its spirit of camaraderie. Segel, usually relegated to supporting comic relief in “Knocked Up” and the CBS television show “How I Met Your Mother,” takes center stage here as the straight man. Segel, who also penned the script, displays qualities very much similar to Tina Fey, whose ability to make her roles funny when all the people around her all so outrageous and showy makes NBC’s “30 Rock” a pleasure to watch. Segel is funny to be sure, but it’s his effortless, kind charm that makes him a fantastic hero for this story.

There are plenty of Apatow regulars to be found in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” and every one of them is right on key for hilarity. Bill Hader provides great support as Peter’s best friend, but it’s the small roles with players like Jonah Hill and Paul Rudd that are truly winning. Sadly, neither Michael Cera nor Seth Rogen makes an appearance in the film, yet it’s a relief that the crew seems to have found a stellar new set of members whose debut appearances are nothing short of wonderful.

Kristen Bell, who has already achieved immortal cult fame as the lead on “Veronica Mars” and as a recurring guest star on “Heroes” last year, plays Peter’s ex-girlfriend, Sarah Marshall, with just the right mix of good and bad qualities. Her choice of an incomprehensible rock star over Peter makes her seem out of her mind, but it’s not hard to figure out why Peter would want her back. Relative film newcomer Russell Brand is perhaps the funniest performer in the whole film, as Sarah’s outlandish new beau. Mila Kunis, best known for her whiny, ditzy portrayal of Jackie on “That ’70s Show,” makes a stunning transition into respectable film acting as a hotel clerk who feels sympathy for Peter and tries to make his stay all the more enjoyable.

The sunny Hawaiian setting in the film just makes everything seem all the more pleasant and radiant. The film would still be funny were it set in a less tropical location, but the locale gives off an extremely happy feeling which remains throughout the movie. After all is said and done, this is still a lewd, highly uncensored comedy, but it combines the hilarity of “Superbad” with the effective dramedy of “Knocked Up.” The most commendable improvement over those earlier Apatow offerings is that this one isn’t too long – it ends at just the right point, and the last act is wildly and irreverently funny. If this movie is representative of the future of the Apatow troop, there are sure to be a whole lot of terrific movies coming up.


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