Saturday, April 19, 2008

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Judd Apatow has a knack for producing films with familiar themes that nonetheless take new angles. Knocked Up is basically a romantic comedy with the added complication of a baby (Miracle of Morgan's Creek anybody?) while Superbad is both a parody and paragon of the teen sex movie.

It's rewarding, then, if not surprising that Forgetting Sarah Marshall takes the break-up flick to a new level. This movie's average shmoe lead (played by screenwriter Jason Segel) is an unambitious composer whose girlfriend is hot actress Sarah Marshall (played by Kristen Bell).

Early on, of course, Sarah dumps Peter and the inconsolable chap tries having sex with all manner of creatures to take his mind off her. This is a pretty funny, if unusual, montage. Next, he decides to get away from it all, and through a not entirely improbable set of circumstances, ends up at the same hotel as the ex- herself.

Now, the formula for a break-up movie requires: a) the couple to get back together; b) the lead to find happiness with a new love. And according to Hollywood rules, the new love has to be hotter than the old one--no easy feat when starting from the flawless Ms. Bell.

Enter Mila Kunis. She of the blue & green eye. You know instantly that Peter is going to hook up with Rachel.
I saw Mila live with the "Family Guy" crew when they went around before the hit-and-miss revival of the series. It was very funny and, not surprisingly, Mila (who seemed shy) was overshadowed by the two Seths, the writers and even Alex Borstein (who also seemed shy, but would occasionally break into an uncanny and startling monkey impression).

Since I'm not familiar with "That '70s Show", I didn't otherwise know her work. (OK, except for the odd American Psycho 2.) It was interesting to note that, yes, she's actually doing a voice for Meg on "Family Guy" and also that she effortlessly portrayed the role of at-least-as-hot-but-way-lower-maintenance girl.
The fourth major character in the movie is vacuous rock star Aldous Snow, played by Russell Brand (who, while English, seems to be aping Johnny Depp's pirate accent).

Now, it would be easy--and most break-up films go this way--to portray Sarah as a bitch and Aldous as an asshole, and have Peter's relationship with Rachel be his vengeance against them. But there are a lot of wrinkles here: When we think Sarah's totally unjustified, we're given a look into her POV that indicates otherwise; when we think Aldous is completely useless he turns out to be kind of cool, and helpful to a newlywed basket-case; and when we think Rachel and Peter are going to hook up, he and she have issues.

In other words, instead of the usual "you're the cause of all my problems" movie, we get a movie where everyone's situation is more-or-less of their own making.

Meanwhile, the supporting cast is typically awesome, the surrounding stories making even minor characters feel fleshed out. Apatow regulars Jonah Hill and Paul Rudd, for example, and the two plus-sized Taylor Wiley and Davon McDonald are consistently funny.

The icing on the cake is excerpts from a rock opera based on Dracula, and featuring puppets, a CSI-like crime show (only barely parodic) and some marvelously awful rock lyrics.

Despite having a different writer and cast than previous Apatow films, it's still in the same vein, so if you didn't like the previous flicks, you're not gonna like this one either. If you did, though, this is a strong entry in the canon, even for him.

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