Monday, May 12, 2014

No Man Is An Island

Year: 2008
Director: Nicholas Stoller
Cast: Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis
Run Time: 1 hour 51 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Judd Apatow is the Joss Whedon of rom coms. He has a massive pool of recurring cast members to pull from at a moments notice (generally stars of the short-lived TV series Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared), a rabidly supportive fanbase, and a time-tested storytelling formula. For Joss it's witty genre sendups. For Judd it's overlong but pristinely funny raunchy comedies.

Needless to say I'm in the Whedon camp, but I've slowly been catching up on the Apatow repertoire. This Is 40 was a non-starter, but that one came late in the game. The 40-Year-Old Viirgin was pretty dang funny. And I absolutely adored the obscenely brief run of Undeclared. Forgetting Sarah Marshall, riding high on the success of Knocked Up and Superbad, is another success although perhaps in a slightly more low-key register than its predecessors.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall tells the story of composer Peter Bretter (Jason Segel). He works on the trashy TV show Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime and is dating its star, one Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). Well, not for long. After she breaks up with him he decides to get away from it all and visit a Hawaii resort. Little does he know that Sarah and her new boyfriend (Russell Brand) are staying at the same hotel.

If you shaved both of their heads, you could have enough hair to provide wigs for the entire cast of Kinky Boots.

He befriends a gorgeous hotel clerk named Rachel (Mila Kunis) and can you guess what happens? It's basically an island sex farce with celebrity cameos so, in essence, it's pretty dang good. Kristen Wiig has a fabulous cameo as a condescending yoga instructor, 30 Rock's Jack McBrayer has a hilarious turn as a religious newlywed, and Paul Rudd steals the show as Koonu, a forgetful island dweller.

There are several scenes that are laugh-out-loud hilarious (if you're ever feeling down, check out any scene from Sarah Marshall's television show), but for the most part the film is lambently funny in that uniquely Apatowian way. It's like watching a movie while waiting for the doctor to call you in; you're aware that you're laughing consistently but you're not really focused on the film itself. 

The Hawaiian setting has a similar effect, drawing the eye behind the actors except for the dazzling moments where the beautiful landscapes draw out Kunis' natural color into sparkling relief.

It's really just unfair how pretty she is.

I'm aware of many people who sing their praises of this film's comedy to the heavens, but the overlong scenes didn't tickle me as much as my peers. Perhaps this is because I have been inoculated against the type of bro humor Forgetting Sarah Marshall employs. Jason Segel is naked in the opening scene? So what? It's a penis. I know you might be shocked and scandalized, but I have been naked before. 

It's funny to a point, but I suppose I'm just too crotchety and jaded to be receptive to some of the more non-character-related humor. Because that stuff is all great! The screenplay by Jason Segel is laden with hoary romantic comedy tropes, but there are enough clever twists on the genre to keep it feeling fresh, a personal favorite of which is that neither character is the bad guy. Peter and Sarah are equally at fault in their split, even if neither of them feel that way.

Better yet, the film is only a little bit misogynistic, which technically shouldn't be a compliment but I'll take what I can get in this barren genre.

Go Uncle Marshall!

The island's scenic vistas are beautiful, if uncreatively shot, and the film's visual vocabulary relies less on the Orange and Teal Disease that would plague later Apatow efforts until it reached terminal velocity in This Is 40.

And against all odds, I enjoyed Russell Brand in a movie. This was one of his breakout roles, so it's only fitting that it should be his best, but I was remarkably surprised when his performance allowed me to overlook what a massively unpleasant person he seems to be.

All in all, I really did have a good time watching Forgetting Sarah Marshall although I'm not sure I'll be champing at the bit to grab the DVD for my collection. But I shall certainly be thanking Sergio for turning me on to this clever and colorful comedy.

TL;DR: Forgetting Sarah Marshall puts a couple twists on a worn-out genre and is an unremittingly pleasant exercise in Apatow-style comedy.
Rating: 7/10
Word Count: 776

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