In keeping with the blog's concept of reviewing things for people who have already seen them, after the jump I'm going to get more specific with the spoilers than you'd find in your average day-of-release review. So if you haven't seen it yet, don't click through. The short, unspoilered version: While it could have stood more work in the editing room and the central romance is thin at best, "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" made me laugh until it hurt, and I might rank it second among the core Apatow movies, behind "40-Year-Old Virgin" but ahead of "Knocked Up" and "Superbad."
Spoilers coming up just as soon as I give someone a copy of my demo...
On "How I Met Your Mother," Jason Segel plays a happy, well-adjusted guy who's madly in love with the woman who's madly in love with him. If you'd only ever seen Segel on "HIMYM," you might be shocked by the role and movie Segel has written for himself with "Sarah Marshall." If, however, you've been paying attention to everything else the guy has done in his career -- particularly in conjunction with Apatow -- than the fear and self-loathing of "Sarah Marshall" just feels like an extension of parts he's been playing for years.
On "Freaks and Geeks," he was Nick, the dope-smoking drummer with a knack for smothering the current girl of his dreams. (His spectacularly one-sided romance with Linda Cardellini's Lindsay was so squirmy that Apatow once joked it was the reason the show got canceled.) With "Undeclared," Fox wouldn't let Apatow cast Segel as the hero, so instead he got to play the clingy, pathetic boyfriend of the girl the hero was in love with. In "Knocked Up," he didn't have a girlfriend but made himself unusually, uncomfortably available to Katherine Heigl's married sister. (He also, for added creepy factor, declared "Gynecology is only a hobby for me.")
So, having spent years honing this persona as the guy whose love makes women uncomfortable, it seems only natural that Segel would write a movie-length variation on that theme, one that plays up his fearlessness about exposing both his body and his emotions, one that, at times, made me want to cover my eyes and ears as much as I did when Nick serenaded Lindsay to the sounds of Styx's "Lady."
Speaking of Segel exposing his body, this is the point of the review where I'm contractually obligated to discuss Jason Segel's penis. To do it is by now a cliche, but you can't discuss the movie without discussing the penis.
Seeing the movie in a packed Friday night theater reminded me of the limitations of even the mighty entertainment media hype machine. Again, nearly every story written about this movie has, usually right up top, discussed the appearance -- and, in some cases, length and girth -- of Segel's member, and yet when that towel fell during the break-up scene, the gasps I heard throughout that theater suggested that a lot of people had no idea when they woke up that morning that they were going to see an uncovered wang before they went to bed. I certainly wish that the parents who brought what looked like nine-year-old boy and a four-year-old girl had learned of this key fact in advance, but if they couldn't afford a babysitter, I'm guessing they viewed Entertainment Weekly as an extravagance as well. (For the record, no one left the theater at any point of the movie, so those kids just got a few semesters of sex ed in one night.)
Personally, I wish I had been as surprised as that family of four, because so much of what's funny in that break-up scene is the surprise of Segel being unashamedly naked throughout it. If you go in knowing there's going to be a penis on the screen, the penis by itself isn't inherently funny.
What is inherently funny, however, is people having bad sex, and there's an awful lot of bad sex in this movie. The high point of the bad lovemaking comes in the subplot with Jack McBrayer as a virginal newlywed (particularly when he starts getting love lessons from Aldous), but I also loved Carla Gallo (Segel's "Undeclared" girlfriend) as the "Hi" girl (and Peter's realization that he did, in fact, want to gag her) and Aldous' horrified reaction to the idea that some woman might be faking her orgasm with him. (Hate to break it to you, buddy, but I'm sure that wasn't the first time.)
I mentioned McBrayer, who's had small roles in a few previous Apatow-produced movies and deserves to graduate to a full-fledged member of his traveling repertory company after this one. Yes, it's just him doing a variation on Kenneth from "30 Rock," but if Jonah Hill can give the exact same performance in every Apatow film, why can't McBrayer? (Hill, by the way, is quite funny here, in part because he's used sparingly. The second half of "Superbad" -- the non-McLovin portions, anyway -- ran into trouble because they asked Hill to do too much and he starts to grate after a while.) Paul Rudd and, especially, Bill Hader, also earned their paychecks for their obligatory appearances -- for a guy who signed on to "SNL" as an impressionist, Hader's surprisingly great at finding funny ways to play very normal parts -- and as Aldous the rock god, Russell Brand is beyond brilliant. Segel's script gives Aldous a few moments of self-awareness and/or decency (he likes Peter's music, and he doesn't mind having to wait for a table at the restaurant), but Brand goes beyond that in making the guy oddly likable. In the hands of most actors, Aldous would be a complete d-bag; Brand finds the goofy, overgrown kid in him.
That generosity of character applies to almost everybody, from small characters like the waiter who beats up Peter by night but acts cool with him by day to bigger people like the title character. Again, the easy route is to make Sarah herself a complete bitch who didn't deserve Peter, and while her behavior isn't always exemplary (she's been cheating on him forever, she invites herself along to dinner with Peter and later tries to seduce him), she's not an awful human being, and we're told in no uncertain terms that she was right to want out of her relationship with Peter.
I just wish that, while Segel was going out of his way to give Sarah three dimensions, he also gave Kristen Bell something funny to do. Mila Kunis, too. Kunis is a much warmer, likable presence than I ever found her on "That '70s Show" (she and Rachel Bilson have kind of become the same person over time), but the script is too fuzzy on why Rachel falls for Peter and, particularly, why he falls for her over all the other women who failed to help salve the pain of the break-up.
Because the relationship Peter is getting into is less three-dimensional than the one he's getting out of, "Sarah Marshall" gets weaker towards the end. The movie's nearly two hours long, which isn't automatically a terrible idea for a comedy, but which would be a lot more palatable if it built to a bigger ending. There's no grand gesture (though Peter does get himself beat up to retrieve the bathroom photo), and even the comic set piece of Peter's rock opera isn't as big and ridiculous as I might have hoped. The ending's... nice, I suppose, but far from the most memorable part.
(The editing overall is kind of wonky. The movie's long -- much as I enjoyed the bits of business with the different hotel staffers, we could have stood to cut some of them -- and yet several bits seem to end at least 5 or 10 seconds sooner than they should. The end of the scene with the pig, for instance, felt too abrupt, and also didn't leave enough room for anyone to breathe so we could hear the jokes in the next scene.)
But as I've said often, funny forgives a lot, and I haven't laughed this much at a movie since... probably the first half of "Superbad," in fact.
A couple of random notes:
- Loved Billy Baldwin lampooning David Caruso, and the overall mockery of the "CSI" shows and how much they get away with in terms of sex and violence. And have you seen NBC's official site for "Crime Scene"?
- She wasn't in the credits, but I could have sworn I saw/heard Stephanie D'Abruzzo from "Avenue Q" as the female puppeteer at the end. Am I going nuts?
What did everybody else think?