Wednesday, June 23, 2010

“Are those sad tissues or happy tissues?”

It seems you can’t really go a year without a comedy from the juggernaut that, in an attempt to sound hip and edgy, I’ll call the “Apatow Collective” (to include films directed, produced or in some way involves Judd Apatow or people closely associated with him). This is by no means a bad thing, since I rather liked The 40 Year Old Virgin and from what I saw of Superbad in a bar with the sound off it looked amusing. And that rather awkward segue leads us to 2008’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which features a number of Apatow confreres.

So our hero is a musician working in Hollywood writing scores for television and film and he’s dating a successful actress. Life should be great, right? Well, turns out he’s kind of a slacker in general and his girlfriend unceremoniously (to say the least) dumps him and starts going out with a big rock star. Miserable, our hero is eventually convinced to take a trip to Hawaii to help him in forgetting Sarah Marshall (DUN DUN DUN!). Guess who happens to be vacationing there at the same time? Can you say “hilarity ensues” in Hawaiian? No, really, can you? Because that would’ve made that last line seem a whole lot wittier.

Peter Bretter: Jason Segel (who also wrote it) is our hero, a decent guy who’s also kind of a schlub. After Sarah dumps him, he tries to get over her by having lots of random, meaningless sex to no avail and ends up in a deeper funk. When he gets to Hawaii, he gets thrown for a loop when Sarah & her new boyfriend show up and things get complicated when befriends the cute employee at the resort. As far as protagonists go, Segel does a good job of keeping Peter likable without making him a one dimensional sad-sack. I mean, yeah, he spends most of the movie bemoaning his fate, but at least he tries to learn something.

Sarah Marshall: Kristen Bell plays Peter’s much more successful and popular ex who’s the star of a CSI type show. She’s not a terrible human being, but she is a bit on the callow and self-centered side (well, to be fair the movie takes Peter’s side in the split).

Aldous Snow: Russell Brand is the outlandish, over-the-top British rocker and front man for “Infant Sorrow” that Sarah leaves Peter for. Amusingly enough when Peter & Aldous are forced to be near each other in Hawaii, they start getting along rather well (they are both musicians after all).

Rachel Jansen: Mila Kunis is a receptionist at the Hawaiian resort that Peter ends up at and dontcha know, he takes a fancy to her and they hesitatingly start going out. She’s extremely likable in this.

Brian Bretter: Recent SNL veteran (though I won’t hold it against him) Bill Hader (who was also in Tropic Thunder as a minor character) plays Peter’s married stepbrother who tries to provide constructive criticism.

Kimo: Taylor Wily plays a large Hawaiian employee at the hotel who hangs out with Peter, keeping him effectively busy and less concerned about his former relationship. Kimo’s a bro, and gets the funniest single line in the movie, making him the film’s badass.

The rest of the B team consist of mostly hotel/resort employees who interact with Peter, like Matthew the Waiter (Jonah Hill), Dwayne the Bartender (Da’Vone McDonald) and Chuck the Surfing Instructor (Paul Rudd) as well as awkward newlywed couple Darald & Wyoma (Jack McBrayer & Maria Thayer).

Directed by Nicholas Stoller and DP Russ T. Alsobrook (Apatow produced). This is Stoller’s first film, and you know what, he does a fine job of it. The movie keeps moving along, and even when there are moments where it feels like some conversations Peter is having are repeating, at least the scenery changes. Hawaii looks good in the film too, though its mostly limited to the area around the resort.

Writen by Jason Segel the film juggles the main and several subplots fairly well. There are some points though where you realize some characters are more “quirky” than “funny” (like Matthew the Waiter and the newlywed couple) but it doesn’t detract much from the movie. The jokes are generally amusing, but ultimately the movie is more like a clever, self-reflective dramedy than an outrightly hilarious knee-slapper.

However, there is one idea in the film that is an absolute stroke of comedic genius and that gets revealed when Peter is talking about his old ambition to finish writing a rock opera about Dracula with an all-puppet cast. Let that sink in. Dracula. Puppet. Musical.

Hell, I’d pay to see it.

Original music by Lyle Workman and a bunch of songs from performers like Cake, Prince, The Smiths, The Time, Russell Brand himself and stuff from the fictional vampire musical “A Taste For Love” (see above) written by Jason Segel himself (who actually can write music).

Forgetting Sarah Marshall isn’t exactly something that had me rolling on the floor begging for death because my sides hurt so much from merriment. Nor is it mightily quotable compared to a lot of other comedies. HOWEVER, it’s actually got a lot of heart and moxie where it counts and the “quirky side characters” do end up growing on you (mostly). What really saved it from the “OK But Forgettable” pile was the Dracula Musical, though it was a success and got its own spinoff, Get Him To The Greek, which I’m in no rush to see since I thought Aldous Snow was an all right secondary character, but wasn’t blown away by him.

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