Monday, December 6, 2010

"Forgetting Sarah Marshall" smart, funny, and sweet

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008) 
110 min., rated R.
Grade: B +

Producer Judd Apatow is a good bridge to movies for his graduate cast on TV's "Freaks and Geeks" and "Undeclared." Like Seth Rogen in the Apatow-directed "Knocked Up," co-star Jason Segel from both shows and that 2007 gem wrote the script, based on experience, for "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," a smart, funny, and sweet romantic comedy. 

He also stars as Peter Bretter, a sensitive schlub who composes the "dark, ominous" music for a crime TV series, "Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime," starring ambitious girlfriend Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). Rather quickly, their five-year relationship ends when Sarah dumps him, leaving the guy self-loathing and heartbroken. In need of space, Peter decides to take a vacation to Hawaii and unintentionally stays in the same hotel as Sarah and her new pompous British rocker/lover, Aldous Snow (Russell Brand, who's a scene-stealing stitch). With that enough to push the fragile puppy dog over the edge, the hotel's pleasant concierge, Rachel (Mila Kunis), and the rest of the staff help make his stay a little more tolerable. 

Uncommonly wise and ribald in equal measure, "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" has a shambling, loosey-goosey feel and pace about it that's more grounded and relatable. Proudly stamped with an R-rating, there's some unabashed sex, and Segel fearlessly doing a little Full Monty in the first and last scene to hilarious effect. Yes, ladies, he bears full frontal, but since he wrote the script, he thinks with his heart more than his little friend. The writing is so witty and the performances fresh that the movie defies being a foregone conclusion, even if we are rooting for Peter and Rachel to get together and stay together. 

In his first leading man role, Segel makes Peter likably doughy and sympathetic. The radiant Bell is fine as the Sarah Marshall, and she nor the script plays her character as a one-note bitch but a rising actress who struggles with her own life. Kunis is adorable and really pops, showing spunk and charisma as the new love interest. Brand is so zonky and disarming, as smarmy and pretentious as his Aldous is, that every crazy utterance from his mouth will make you crack a laugh. 

A rock-musical production of "Dracula" that Segel makes with hand puppets "Ave Q" style is winning and inspired. Hollywood-insider parodies of straight-faced crime shows with William Baldwin are sharp and hilarious, as is a strategically placed jab at Sarah Marshall starring in a crappy horror movie about killer cell phones (much like the crappy J-horror movie "Pulse" which Bell herself starred in). If there had to be a quibble, it'd be first-time director Nicholas Stoller's tendency to cut scenes too short that it's strange he didn't just cut them altogether. Apatow regulars Bill Hader, Jonah Hill, and Paul Rudd show up in priceless supporting roles, respectively, Segel's helpful step-brother, a stalkerish waiter, and a burned-out surfing instructor. Also, TV's "30 Rock" cast member Jack McBrayer is brilliantly loopy and awkward as a virginal, religious newlywed. 

"Forgetting Sarah Marshall" never feels like a sketch but a real movie with genuine emotions and a funny bone.

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