April 27, 2008

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (04/27/08)

Lettergrade: B-ish

The critics really oversold the fuck out of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but that's not to say that they're doing it entirely without merit. Truth be told, it is a really funny movie, but I'm not convinced that praising the picture as highly as guys like Richard Roeper and Michael Phillips have been lately really does the film any favors. Seeing any movie is all about expectation, and I think one's enjoyment of a picture often has an inverse relationship to what you think you might be in for going in. I'll use an example from my own life: I was a on a long international flight when One Night At McCool's, a movie I had heard sucked five kinds of ass, was announced as the in-flight screening. Having finished the most recent Garfield graphic novel, and feeling reluctant to start a crossword puzzle or work on my memoirs, I decided to give it a watch and was pleasantly surprised when the comic stylings of Matt Dillon, Paul Riser, and Andrew Dice Clay united to produce a picture that was actually mildly funny. Of course, after 6 hours on a trans-Atlantic flight, pretty much any movie joke, no matter how feeble, would seem like a cool drink of water after a long desert hike, but I'm getting away from things here...

Had I seen Forgetting Sarah Marshall, a genuinely enjoyable movie, on the flight, I'm sure I'd be trumpeting its virtues with the same pants-shitting enthusiasm that Roeper has too. Be cautioned, however, that it is merely a good movie rather than an amazing one. The script was written by Jason Segal, who also plays the main dude. I primarily knew him as one of the leads on How I Met Your Mother, a refreshingly clever show that my wife watches, and although I thought he had great comic timing there, I was honestly surprised that to see that he's as multitalented as he seemingly is here.

The plot isn't all that ground-breaking or original... Segal plays a struggling musician who composes the bland underscore for a generic, bullshit police procedural show called Crime Scene: The Scene Of The Crime. He's dating the star of that show, played by Kristen Bell, the chick who played Veronica Mars, but she dumps him early in the movie for a world-famous rock musician who exudes coolness. After going through a lot of self-punishing rituals that guys tend to go through when they're dumped, he decides to go to Hawaii for a vacation, only to discover that Mars and her new guy are staying at the same resort. He can't afford to stay himself, but a cute hotel clerk (played by Family Guy's Mila Kunis, infinitely more beautiful than Mars in that her total body fat is well over 0.001%), basically lets him stay in the penthouse suite for free. General wackiness and self-flagellation ensue.

Although somewhat formulaic, many of the scenes feel like they're coming from a very personal place, and that's one of the main things that gives the movie a lot of charm. I will say, however, that the plot gets into sort of a meandering nebula in the mid section. You know a certain number of things are going to happen... Will Segal find a deep, meaningful relationship with the free spirited hotel clerk? Will Sarah Marshall come to realize that the showy, world-famous musician she traded up for is a philandering scum bag? The answers are pretty clear to these questions, but the movie, which clocks in at nearly 2 hours, takes its sweet-ass time getting to them.

Several times during the flick, I was reminded of the 1985 John Cusack classic Better Off Dead, one of the staples of my youth. In other ways, the picture feels like a smarter version of the early Adam Sandler movies of eld; before his budgets got huge and his scripts went into autopilot. Part of what made those early movies work is that they felt so cheap... it was like a bunch of friends came up with the idea while drinking one night, and part of joke is that they somehow got it made and into theaters. Like all those movies, this one has a real gee-whiz enthusiasm, too. You kinda get the impression that these guys feel like they might never get to make a movie again, so they're giving it everything they've got.

The movie was produced by Judd Apatow, who has produced pretty much every comedy that's been released in the last two years. The cast, as usual, includes various members of his stock company, including the omnipresent Paul Rudd, who plays a stoned surfer who works at the hotel. Also along for the ride are Jonah Hill and SNL's Bill Hader, who were both really funny in Superbad, but who feel a bit shoehorned in here. Segal, who himself appeared in Knocked Up and was a regular on Apatow's short-lived Undeclared series, probably couldn't have gotten the picture made without Apatow backing him, but I can't help but feel at the same time that the movie would be better off if it were free of the usual trappings of an Apatow production.

My friend Alex lamented recently that each Apatow picture is a little worse than the one that came before it. I don't know if I entirely agree with that, but I think they're certainly settling into a certain groove where you more or less have an idea of what to expect: Gross-out humor with a heart. It may be getting a little predictable, in that sense, but I still think they're a little more thoughtful and satisfying than, say, the seemingly endless stream of direct-to-DVD American Pie sequels, and more often than not, I'm glad that I took the time to watch them.

One last thing, I heard an awful lot about Segal's flacid penis before we saw the movie, and indeed it makes a cameo in several scenes. I don't really have anything meaningful to say about this, but if nothing else, I guess it shows Segal's dedication.

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