In the vein of last year's Knocked Up and Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is the first great comedy of 2008. Capturing the same style and edginess as those popular comedies, Sarah Marshall has the R-rated laughs and sweetness to appeal to both sexes, though it's really no surprise: the movie is produced by Judd Apatow, and stars and is written by Jason Segel, who has had roles in many of Apatow's products.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall is about a musician named Peter Brenner (Segel), who is dumped by his hot and famous TV actress of a girlfriend Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). Heartbroken and devastated, Peter decides to head to Hawaii for a vacation, but who happens to be staying at the exact same resort but his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend, the super-obnoxious but famous singer Aldous Snow (Russell Brand). As Peter tries to drink away his sorrows amongst the worst possible situation, he takes a liking to the front desk clerk, Rachel (Mila Kunis). Is Rachel the girl he was meant to be with, or is she just another rebound girl as he tries to escape his love for Sarah?
The movie may sound like the typical romantic comedy, and in terms of plot structure it pretty much is, but what sets Sarah Marshall apart is the fact that it is written with a raw, authentic and certainly R-rated manner. Knocked Up, Superbad and Sarah Marshall all share the same traits: they take a rather simple story and stuff it full of witty, hilarious humor, edgy, R-rated sequences and an abruptness that make them seem a lot more realistic than any standard romantic comedy, despite the screenplay's determination to go to the extreme. The bottom line is: if you have liked the other Judd Apatow movies of the last year, you will like Sarah Marshall.
Additionally, the movie is a great step forward for all those involved. Director Nicholas Stoller has made up for the horrible Fun with Dick and Jane; maybe directing is more his foray than writing. Jason Segel, who probably no one recognizes other than from a few supporting roles here and there, gets his time to prove he's a leading man - and writer - just like Seth Rogen did a year earlier. Kristen Bell gets to show off her goods outside of the rather restrictive UPN (CW?) network, and in fact Sarah Marshall pokes fun at her quite heavily about this; she plays a TV actress who is aspiring to make the switch to movies, but has yet to make a successful jump. Her character's only film-to-date is a horror movie about a cell phone signal that kills people, sort of like Bell's Pulse which was less than impressive. Even Mila Kunis gets to remind audiences that she's still around and that she's hotter than every - guys will appreciate that there is at least a nude picture of her featured in the movie.
The cast all does an effective job; Segel, despite being just slightly overweight, a little geeky-looking and super pale, manages to pull off a character who is at the center of two gorgeous women's affections with relative ease. Segel has great comic timing, but also makes for a good romantic lead. Kunis is also quite good and balances Segel out quite well, while Bell isn't nearly as interesting - then again, she isn't meant to be. One of the highlights, however, is Russell Brand, who delivers a ridiculously over-the-top but likable performance as an obnoxious singer who believes in free love and his wonderfully annoying British accent. Other smaller characters also make the movie, from Jack McBrayer's awkward take on a conservative newlywed to Paul Rudd's stoner surfing instructor.
There really aren't any faults to the movie; Sarah Marshall is consistently funny and at times absurdly brilliant. If anything, it lacks a defining hilarious moment - like the dick-drawing sequence in Superbad - but I'd take consistent over slightly inconsistent with some pants-wetting moments (which I found Superbad to be). Forgetting Sarah Marshall is on par with the other popular Judd Apatow movies from the last year, and that's a good thing. A very good thing.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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