Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Universal April 18

“Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” the latest film from the growing empire of Judd Apathow, Hollywood's King of Comedy, is not as strong or as outrageous as his signature pieces, “40-Year-Old-Virgin” and “Knocked-Up,” but it's charming and winning enough to register effectively with young viewers.

The comedy world-premiered in Austin's SXSW Film Fest and will be released by Universal on April 18.

“Forgetting Sarah Marshall” is significant in other ways: In featuring the 28-year-old Jason Segel as writer and star and Nicholas Stoller as director, it represents yet another addition of manpower and talent to what's becoming the Apathow's reliable troupe of writers, directors and actors, very much in the vein of other empire during the Hollywood studio system, such as Preston Sturges' cohort in the 1940s.

While “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” is not exactly formulaic, it certainly fits into what could be described as the Apathow format. By now, after a dozen comedies, the elements of the paradigm are clear: A title that describes literally the essence of the picture; an actor whose looks and demeanor are not typical of those of mainstream Hollywood stars; situations that are contrived but still grounded in some recognizable reality; bawdy humor and foul lingo; punch lines that are memorable and thus enter easily into movie lore; some exotic or far-out locale that encourages the characters to drop their guard and be closer to their instinctsand libido.

Perhaps the most important ideological ingredient of Apathow's contribution to comedy is his balancing act of the gender and social class equations. His picture turn ordinary looking, working class guys (actually boys) who're losers into winners, men blessed with greater self-awareness and social responsibility. As comedy impresario, Apathow is doing for guys what countless Hollywood screwball comedies have done for beautiful, rich and flighty women and shy and stiff men: He humanizes them.

Still best known for his TV creations (at 19, he was the hangdog drummer Nick Andopolis in “Freaks and Geeks,” and appeared as the sensitive boyfriend in “Undeclared”), Jason Segel plays Peter Bretter, a chubby guy whose frame conceals a more sensitive and needy inner self.

In his unfulfilling day job, Peter writes scores for “CSI”-like cop shows of his attractive girlfriend-actress Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bel), aspiring to compose TV crime shows that sort of combine “Dracula,” “Les Miserables” and “Avenue Q.”

Like most of Apathow's heroes, Peter is a shy, insecure, underachiever, who is willing to play second fiddle to (and even service) Sarah in public, like holding her purse in photo shoots. However, ever the romantic, he has not given up on ideal, confident that their relationship is based on true love.

As a result, it's perfectly understandable that Peter is shaken when Sarah dumps him for a more appealing beau, Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), a cool British rocker who's self-absorbed. What's a devastated guy to do He goes to Hawaii for a vacation. Contrivance kicks in, when his chosen hotel is the very resort in which Sarah and Aldous are spending their amorous holiday. Semi-predictable complications, misunderstandings, random and not-so-random encounters ensue.

Filling time and adding color is a gallery of secondary characters, such as Rachael (Mila Kunis), a flirtatious hotel desk clerk that despite her own bag of problems knows how to give a good time. Other locals extend themselves too: A chef asks Peter to help him “take care” of a pig, and the bartenders indulge his drinking. On the surface, not a bad vacation, after all.

Not neglecting members of Apathow's ensemble, the feature also includes Paul Rudd as a surfing instructor and Jonah Hill as a waiter who fantasizes about being a celeb musician
William Baldwin and Jason Bateman make nice cameo appearances as Sarah's co-stars in the primetime crime shows.

While the movie is mostly appealing, it's not as outrageously raunchy as Greg Motolla's “Superbad,” nor as touching pr poignant as “Knocked-Up.” Eve so, some of the humor is bawdy, evident in a scene in which a God-fearing honeymooner is scared by his bride's carnal desires (which is another ingredient of the Apathow's comedy blueprint).

Like all of Apathow's films, Segel's scenario is highly-structured and logically precise but still loose enough to appear spontaneous and to accommodate funny and raucous situations that throw the characters into unpredictable occasions of crisis in which they become the butt of the jokesoften their own jokes.

Ultimately, though, it's the central trio that keeps the comedy afloat. Russell Brand steals some scenes as the self-absorbed rocker whose hedonism contrasts with Peter's lifestyle. The attractive Kristin Bell (of TV's “Veronica Mars”), who should become a star, proves a good match for both Brand (for a while) and Segel.

Making a nice transition from a whining and wallowing loser into a goofy winner, Segel registers strongly, showing both command and vulnerability when the context called for it. Defying prescribed gender roles for “real men,” he is not above crying hysterically in public, and not below showing some skin in a couple of nude scenes that certify and justify the comedy's R-Rating.

If the picture is truly commercially successful, it should elevate the stature of Jason Segel, who's still young enough to become a major comedian.

Ende Note

Segel has repeatedly denied that “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” is based on his breakup with Linda Cardellini, his “Freaks” co-star.

Cast

Peter Bretter – Jason Segel
Sarah Marshall – Kristen Bell
Rachael – Mila Kunis
Aldous Snow – Russell Brand
Brian – Bill Hader
Matthew – Jonah Hill
Surfing Instructor – Paul Rudd

Credits

A Universal release and presentation of an Apatow production.
Produced by Judd Apatow, Shauna Robertson. Executive producer, Rodney Rothman, Richard Vane.
Directed by Nicholas Stoller.
Screenplay, Jason Segel.
Camera: Russ T. Alsobrook.
Editor: William Kerr.
Music: Lyle Workman.
Production designer: Jackson De Govia.
Set decorator: K.C. Fox.
Costume designer: Leesa Evans.
Sound: Richard Van Dyke.

MPAA Rating: R.
Running time: 111 Minutes.