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Forgetting Sarah Marshall had all the potential to fall into one of two camps: unbridled raunchy fun a la 40 Year Old Virgin and Superbad or sentimentality masked as comedy like Knocked Up. I had all the fear that it would hit the latter taking the sensitive guy with the broken heart too far into romance territory, letting the laughs fall by the wayside once the conclusion comes along. Thankfully, though, while the train took some turns down that path, writer/star Jason Segel knew what he was doing and threw in a curveball joke to right the ship at each instance. Rather than attempt to be two kinds of films at once, I believe this was a true hybrid of the two sides of the Apatow machine. You will not be free from laughter for long stretches here as the balance between big laughs and sappy melodrama is always tempered by subtle jabs, fantastic one-liners, and a crew of really likeable actors having fun.

This film also shows society a lesson on human anatomy. It is quite interesting how different reactions nudity can elicit depending on the sex of the person exposed. If the audience sees breasts on screen they get quiet as they are watching what is probably a love scene. However, once you get male genitalia in frame, everyone—and I mean everyone—cannot stop themselves from laughing. Let’s just say there are a lot of laughs of this fashion, so if that may detract you from seeing the film, be warned, but really it is only used to add one more layer of absurdity to seemingly tired situations and in my opinion works brilliantly. One has to respect this clan of artists under Apatow’s wing for pushing boundaries and being willing to go for the joke without a second thought. It’s one thing to be sexual and explicit just to say you are, it’s another to use it in order to enhance the plot and the scene, sticking to your vision and not straying unnecessarily.

What really becomes apparent is how these guys have found a way to understand today’s comedy and their ability to turn a common, simple plot structure into something fresh and entertaining. Guy loses girl, guy tries to get away only to find that his safe haven is also where she is with her new boyfriend (wow haven’t seen that before), guy falls for new girl while old girl realizes how stupid she was, and the end is the end (not to spoil anything directly, but I’m sure you can figure it out). It is all in the details and the gaps between the lines where the true genius manifests itself. Segel has joined Apatow and Seth Rogen in their ability to make a laugh-a-minute riot with a complete story and not simply a string of gags loosely jumbled together. Don’t get me wrong, there are many gags and I’m sure many moments that were thought of previously and added to the script where they fit, but that is the thing, they all fit like a glove. It can’t be easy to weave together a Dracula rock opera, complete with huge payoff at the end; a pig roast, (“Don’t make me do this…I’m sorry!”); a sexually inexperienced newly wed couple; the wonderful features on new Mac computers; and the secret to good surfing technique, (“No, too much movement, do nothing…now stand”), but Segel deftly does the job.

As for the players, I will admit to knowing little to nothing about all the principals. Segel is great in this role, but that should be no surprise since he wrote the part for himself based on real-life experiences, (if it’s true that the breakup scene while naked actually happened to him, kudos for letting a situation like that be permanently etched onto celluloid). As for the women, both Kristen Bell and Mila Kunis do well attempting to break free from their TV show pasts. I’m not a big fan of Bell at all, but she is perfect in this role as the somewhat bitchy celebrity unaware of how vain she is. Maybe my somewhat undeserved hostility towards her made it feel that much more real. As for Kunis, I was completely surprised by how likeable she was. Even when she snaps at one point into a curse-laced tirade, she is still the cutest thing in the world. Also, her chemistry with Segel is completely believable—the attraction through minds and sensibilities as the two are kindred souls finding exactly what they need from each other. The real surprise, though, is Brit Russell Brand. This guy owns each of his scenes with a self-effacing role of utter rockstar stupidity, played absolutely straight. He portrays the cool guy swagger to perfection and mixes in the awkward doltish sensibilities most stereotype his kind with. Segel’s interaction with him on the ocean is the best example of how out there this guy is, yet when it comes to music he really does know what he is doing (regardless of his laughable songs).

It is not going to be a comedy classic like Virgin, but it also won’t be thrown aside as a failed attempt to give a rom-com broad comedic appeal like Knocked Up is with me. Instead it walks the line with a few missteps crossing other both ways. Each time it goes astray, in either direction, it finds it’s footing quickly to right the scale. With the help of cameos from Jonah Hill, Paul Rudd, and Davon McDonald, one can’t languish in the sentimentality for too long because those crazy characters won’t let you. Forgetting Sarah Marshall delivers on the Apatow name and shows that Jason Segel shouldn’t be relegated to only standing in Seth Rogen’s shadow; he may be able to cast his own soon enough.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall 7/10

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photography:
[1] Mila Kunis as Racheal and Jason Segel as Peter Bretter in Universal Pictures’ Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008). Copyright © Universal Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
[2] Russell Brand as Aldous Snow in Universal Pictures’ Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008). Copyright © Universal Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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