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November 17, 2008

DVD/On-Demand Review: Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Guess what I did this weekend?

Three stars. The actor Jason Segel either decided to write himself a movie, or the writer Jason Segel decided to write a movie and then thought he should star in it. Either way, it was a good decision: The writing's very good and Segel, despite having a place on the long list of People I've Never Heard of or Seen Before in My Entire Life, is a good actor who easily holds the movie.


Heartbreak is inherently funny, I've decided. Segel does a good job of hitting all the phases of it -- the desperate, flop-sweat-dripping attempts to pick up other women, the obviously fake "It's cool" sort of pose you put on for the one who jilted you (and the not-very-well-concealed anger), the crying jags. (Watching anyone cry comically is kinda funny, but especially if it's a guy curled up naked in the fetal position.)

This is obligatory stuff, I grant you, but still funnh.

But the heartbreak thing has been done before, and can only be mined for so many fresh laughs, so Segel throws it into the milleu of Hollywood, where he can also goof on dopey pop culture. Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell) plays a detective not unlike a younger Catherine Warrick on a show called Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime not at all unlike CSI (or CSI: Miami); Billy Baldwin, playing himself, plays a Horatio Caine-type brooding detective who can't seem to decide whether to keep his sunglasses on or off, and ends every scene with a horrific "button" ( a button is one of those awful lines that closes a scene right before commercial break).

Yeah, easily parodied, and I parody this stuff myself all the time, but the execution is funny.

If busting on CSI isn't enough, Sarah Marshall also happens to be dating a British lothario "sensitive" rock god called Aldous Snow, played hilariously by a guy I don't think I've seen before, but will be seeing a lot of in the future, I'm sure. (And now he costars in Adam Sandler's upcoming Bedtime Stories.) Russell Brand pwns this role in every way possible, affecting a sort of polymorphously perverse Davey Jones persona -- the sensitive British guy who also is fond of banging three women at once. (He's complex and deep, you see.) Actually, he plays him as sort embracing his hypersexual lifestyle with the childlike innocence of a somewhat brain-damaged 12-year-old -- a lot like Nigel St. Tufnel in Spinal Tap, now that I think of it. I don't want to say he steals the movie -- that would take too much from Segel -- but he does pretty much steal most of his scenes.

Toss in Jonah Hill and Bill Hader (both from Superbad; this is an Apatow production, so the Apatow mafia is represented; and hey, why not throw in Apatow favorite Paul Rudd while we're at it? ) who also do a bit of their own scene-stealing and you've got a comedy that's just flat out likable and consistently delivers small chuckles and smiles of recognition along with some fairly big sized laughs.

Towards the end, they toss in a complication a bit more realistic and problematic than the silly complications usually seen in romantic comedies, and the movie gets a little more serious than expected -- slightly and briefly -- as it heads towards a conclusion as inevitable and predictable as it is welcome.

Still, the movie had earned so much goodwill by this point and genuine care for the characters that this part worked too -- it just wasn't funny.

One small point demonstrating that Segal is avoiding the sort of bone-headed autopilot writing we see a lot of: Neither the woman who jilted him, nor her rock god lover, are bad people. They're not villains. Selfish, maybe, but not bad (and not really more selfish than the hero, really.)

In fact, near the end, Segel demands Kristen Bell explain, honestly, why she threw him over, and, actually, she makes a pretty good case.

Also, Segel tosses in the fact that Aldous Snow is a recovering alcoholic, and that if he so much as has a sip of drink he'll go out of his mind, but the movie wisely avoids the expected let's-dose-Aldous-sequence. (Actually, this seems so set-up that I think they did in fact film it but then wisely decided to edit it out of the movie.)

Picking out a sample scene is tough, because some of them are very funny in context but lose their impact as a YouTube clip. This one stands up, mostly, on its own. Peter (the hero) is trying to write a gothic rock-opera musical about Dracula ("A Taste for Love") but has writer's block. His new romantic interest Milla Kunis encourages him to perform a song from it in a bar, hoping that this will encourage him to finish it.

And here's a Save the Environment video from Aldous Snow of the band "Infant Sorrow." It's only seen in bits in the movie, but they filmed the whole thing as a marketing gimmick. The song is called, stupidly, We've Got to Do Something.

Something. What? Who knows. He's gyrating. What does it matter?

"Sodomize Intolerance." A perfect slogan for the Age of Obama.

Rated R: Just a head's up on what you're going to see here that might be objectionable. There's a fair bit of comically played full frontal nudity -- and the wrong kind of full frontal nudity, if you know what I'm saying -- plus a couple of Mormon newlyweds where the wife is hot and eager to start having sex but the husband is frankly disgusted by the whole notion. (Regarding the suggestion that they try oral sex, he screams: "There's a reason God put our heads on top of our bodies!")

There are also three comically-played sex scenes. Pretty brief, and no nudity. (Except: "The Coppertop" from Strangers with Candy shows some incidental boob.)

No gross-out humor, or even really raunchy, as far as I can remember. Except for having to look at guy's shwang for an entire scene.

Oh... I just realized I have seen Russell Brand before.

He was the douchebag who begged America to vote for Barack Obama on the MTV awards.

Eh, well. Okay. Annoying, and not funny as a stand-up. Doesn't change the fact he's very good in this.

Glad I didn't know that before I saw the movie, though. I would have been resistant to him.

Jeneane Garofalo is like this -- piss-poor stand-up comic, unless your idea of humor is nonsto political sloganeering, but a good comic actress. As long as someone else is writing their lines, they're okay.

Turns Out I Have Seen Jason Segel Before. He was one of Seth Rogan's roommates in Knocked Up, the one who kept hitting on Leslie Mann.

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posted by Ace at 07:33 PM

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