Judd Apatow has become one of the most unlikely power players in Hollywood, who would have thought the man behind the failed television show “Freaks and Geeks” would end up being the biggest brands in Cinema. He’s also a figure who challenges the auteur theory, after all he’s only directed two movies, 2005’s The 40 Year Old Virgin and 2006’s Knocked Up. It’s as a producer that he’s become a household name by making Superbad, Walk Hard, and Drillbit Taylor. Though he only produces many of these films, his stamp is still all over them. The elements of an Apatow work are quite clear: lovable slackers, crude humor, and a heart deep down. These movies have an amazing skill, they take humor that would normally seem stupid and puts it into a smart package. Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the newest film from the Apatow machine is one of the best.
The lovable slacker this time around is Peter Bretter (Jason Segel), a composer for a very bad crime series, who’s been going out for years with the lead actress on the series: Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). In the film’s opening Marshall hits peter with a bombshell: she’s been seeing another man and wants to break up. This puts Peter into a grief filled stupor that even a round of one night stands can’t solve. Finally his concerned friend Brian (Bill Hader) tells him he should go to a Hawaiian resort to take his mind off her. Unfortunately, upon arrival he discovers that Sarah was staying at this very resort with the man she had been cheating on him with, a rock star named Aldous (Russell Brand).
Jason Segal was a supporting character in previous Judd Apatow projects, here he’s brought to the forefront much the way Seth Rogan was elevated to leading man status in Knocked Up. Segal clearly had to earn this promotion, as he also wrote the film’s hilarious screenplay. Segal’s casting also brings up one of the main criticisms people have with Judd Apatow’s films: that they all have ugly losers in relationships with beautiful women (a problem no one ever seems to have when Woody Allen does the same thing). Segal’s character has been called a schlub, but he’s not quite the loser Seth Rogan played in Knocked Up. His character is a successful T.V. composer who seems like a nice lovable guy willing to wear bad gifts and carry Sarah Marshall’s purse while she’s on the red carpet.
The film’s comedic structure is simple; it’s loaded with hilarious supporting roles and Peter bumps into each one of them every once in a while and they do something funny. Among these funny supporters are Russell Brand as Sarah Marshall’s outlandish new rock star boyfriend, Jack McBrayer who’s basically doing an R-rated version of his page character on the show “30 Rock,” Jonah Hill as a hotel employee who seems to be stocking Russell Brand, and Paul Rudd as a surfing instructor who seems to be stoned twenty four hours a day. In a lesser movie these characters would have been show stealing standouts, but this movie is so funny that they’re all just parts of one big hilarious package.
If anyone does steal the show it’s an actress playing a mostly non-comedic role: Mila Kunis. Kunis rose to fame on Fox’s “That 70s Show,” here she plays a hotel employee who takes pity on Peter, letting him into a vacant penthouse and eventually bringing him to a local beach party. I never liked “That 70s Show,” so Kunis’ great presence here was a real surprise to me. Kunis is great at helping jokes set off well, but most importantly she’s able to get the audience to love her, as soon as she comes on the screen the audience has no problem with (pun alert) forgetting Sarah Marshall.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall, fits into the mold of a romantic comedy more than any of the previous Judd Apatow productions. But one shouldn’t let that scare away those just looking for a good comedy. In fact it will probably be a safer bet for those looking for a sex comedy then those trying to entertain a date who may potentially be easily offended. Keep in mind though that these are sex jokes rather than scatological jokes, they’re closer to Kevin Smith than Tom Green. You may have heard the film uses extensive male nudity, these reports have been exaggerated; there are 3-4 very brief comedic shots of full frontal male nudity used for a comedic shock effect, but this is not what this movie should be defined by, there’s a lot more to this movie. The critics who dwell on this small element of the film are doing it a disservice, doing so is like reviewing Borat and focusing on the one wrestling scene.
Of course, the film also shares a few of the problems other Apatow productions have dealt with, namely that the film is more like a hunk of gold then a perfectly crafted diamond. That isn’t to say it’s of any less worth, but it can be just a little rough around the edges. The film could probably use a few cuts, and it also suffers from multiple endings to a certain extent. Frankly I don’t find this to be too much of a problem, and it’s not as noticeable here as it was in Knocked Up.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall will probably come as a surprise to anyone who thought the Judd Apatow label had gotten tired. No doubt the Apatow brand has been watered down by lackluster films like Drillbit Taylor, but this is definitely a return to form that’s right up there with Knocked Up and Superbad. I don’t think the comedy here ever reached the heights of The Forty Year Old Virgin, but I think it might just be the best Apatow project since that debut.
***1/2 out of Four