Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Directed by Nicholas Stoller. Starring Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, Russell Brand, Bill Hader, Jonah Hill, Jack McBrayer, Paul Rudd. (2008, R, 112 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 18, 2008
Written by and starring Freaks and Geeks alum Segel (Neil Peart! Yeah!), Forgetting Sarah Marshall has Freaks creator Judd Apatow as producer, which is rarely a bad thing. Apatow is, of course, the main mover behind recent hits like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Superbad, and Knocked Up (and the clunker Drillbit Taylor), and his particular brand of comedy is both knowing and sweetly perplexed, like a wise old puppy in a microwave. (It also, at times, borders on the non sequitur.) Apatow has, in the past few years, become a cottage industry unto himself, a postmillennial John Hughes, but with little (so far) of the increasingly strident precocity that Hughes evinced as his career devolved from the great (The Breakfast Club) to the banal and beyond (Baby's Day Out, the Home Alone films). Forgetting Sarah Marshall, despite its instantly forgettable title, is the perfect vehicle for Segel, who thus far hasn't really found a comic niche to call his own. His regular-joe features make him perfect for "buddy" parts, but there's a wildly neurotic and needy gleam lurking behind that facial facade: Jack Armstrong via Droopy the dog. It's that semihidden male vulnerability – along with his ability to be utterly naked, literally, on camera – that makes his performance in what might otherwise have been a boilerplate romantic comedy feel so fresh and vital. (Not that fresh and vital, but still.) When creatively blocked television-score writer Peter Bretter (Segel) is dumped by his up-and-coming actress girlfriend (Bell), for whose CSI-esque forensic show he does the doomy themes, he wallows in self-pity and then ships off to Hawaii for some heartbreak therapy, not realizing his ex is staying at the same resort with her new beau, smooth Brit-rocker Aldous Snow (Brand). The rest of the film often plays out as you might expect it to, but Segel, scripting himself, injects regular bursts of comic genius into the proceedings, including a giggly-weepy, ongoing gag about a musical version of Dracula (with puppets!) he's been working on in his spare time. Segel's Nick was always the most overlooked character in Freaks and Geeks, a freak who just wanted to hang out and rock hard on his Rush-sized drum kit, amiably hapless but amiable nonetheless. Apparently, he's all grownup now, but thankfully not so much that he's unable to remain freaky when necessary.