The Apatow reign continues with big laughs and an amazing cast.
Membership in the Judd Apatow inner-circle is worth its weight in gold these days. In a town where ego-driven power players forget bit players and past assistants like yesterday's sashimi roll, Apatow takes care of his own. When his TV shows Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared tanked, stars Seth Rogen and Jason Segel probably didn't foresee themselves headlining big studio comedies any time soon. Nor did directors and writers like Greg Mottola and Nicolas Stoller likely expect to be directing Superbad and Forgetting Sarah Marshall. But here they are. And let's not forget Martin Starr (Freaks and Geeks, Knocked Up, Superbad, Walk Hard), Carla Gallo (Undeclared, 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad) and Jay Baruchel (Undeclared, Knocked Up) and a host of others who Apatow continues to include in his work. If you are a comedy writer with Apatow's number in your Rolodex, life is looking pretty good right now.
The comedy king's latest production is the work of Jason Segel, an actor of cult-ish fan status who played popular characters in both Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared. Segel has also found success outside of the Apatow circle as a regular on How I Met Your Mother. As the story goes, after 40-Year-Old Virgin hit, Apatow went to various pals and basically said, "Hey, I can get movies made now. Let me know if you have anything."
Segel delivered Forgetting Sarah Marshall, based loosely on some of his own relationship experience. Apatow gave the green light and they went off to Hawaii to shoot the movie with Segel serving double duty as writer and star. While FSM was shooting, Knocked Up and Superbad became runaway hits, quickly catapulting the movie to a whole new level and prompting Universal to launch a lavish promotional campaign around the movie.
Segel stars as Peter Bretter, an aspiring musician who works on a popular television show called Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime. He's also dating the show's gorgeous star, Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell) while slowly finishing work on his passion project, Dracula: The Musical. Bretter's world is flipped when Marshall breaks up with him and confesses that she has fallen for rock star Aldus Snow (the incomparable Brit import Russell Brand). After an unsuccessful attempt to calm his sorrows in the beds of a host of lucky ladies (including Undeclared's Gallo) Bretter decides it's time to get away for a bit. He heads to Hawaii on his own for a much-needed vacation only to discover the worst scenario imaginable -– Sarah Marshall is also vacationing in Hawaii with new Beau Aldous Snow.
Co-stars include Mila Kunis as a gorgeous islander at the resort who tries to help Bretter out of his funk; Bill Hader as his brother-in-law who is desperately trying to keep Bretter from spiraling out of control; 30 Rock's Jack McBrayer as a newly-married Mormon finding sex to be more complicated than expected and Apatow regular players Jonah Hill and Paul Rudd in two of the movie's smaller (but still hysterical) parts. Undeclared's Stoller directs.
Getting the chance to see Forgetting Sarah Marshall a little earlier without knowing too much or hearing any reviews, I had no particular expectations one way or the other. I figured it would be good, but never expected the level of comic pleasures that would result from the next hour and a half or so I spent in the theater. While I wouldn't necessarily call Sarah Marshall better than Knocked Up or Superbad, it certain made me laugh out loud and laugh bigger than any movie I can remember since There's Something About Mary. In fact, without revealing the scene (because that would spoil the fun), this one has a shock value moment that is on par with Ben Stiller's classic "Franks and Beans" scene from Mary.
Segel's script is smart, relentlessly funny and even heartfelt. Although some of the memorable lines might have come from the talented improv group involved, his achievement as a writer here must not be dismissed. The story is smart and pointed, giving everyone the perfect material to use as a jump-off point whether sticking to script or riffing in every which way. There are so many quotable lines that I literally pulled out my notebook and started writing them down. It's killing me not giving a few away right now, but they are definitely better experienced in the context of the film.
The cast is outstanding from top to bottom. Segel is perfect as the everyman, walking the line between sympathetic and utterly pathetic. Bell has the tough role of the pseudo-villain, but she's cute and likable enough to pull it off without too much residual hatred. Mila Kunis is the "hot, cool chick." She's very likable and does well as the straight man, if you will, to set up Segel's funniest scenes. Jonah Hill, Paul Rudd, Jack McBrayer and Jonah Hill all make the most of smaller parts to deliver multiple memorable moments apiece.
The breakout performance comes from an unlikely place in Russell Brand. A Brit import who is already a star overseas, Forgetting Sarah Marshall introduces Brand's druggie rock star sex fiend persona to American audiences in a big, big way. Songs such as "Inside of You" draw big laughs right along his endless barrage of misogynistic ramblings like "Hey, look at my limo driver. I'm going to have sex with her!" Brand seems bound for Baron Cohen-like success if this role is any indication. His next role is opposite Adam Sandler in Bedtime Stories.
With the possible exception of Drillbit Taylor (which I haven't seen), Apatow productions are on an unbelievable roll. I can't wait for Pineapple Express (teaming two Freaks and Geeks alums) and SStep Brothers