' Cinema Romantico: Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Monday, April 21, 2008

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

The romantic comedy genre is a bulbous one filled with trite, pained fluff. But it is also dotted with the occasional films that go above and beyond and there are even a few specks that go above and beyond the above and beyond. These few films are the ones to cherish, the ones to hold onto, the ones that will stay with us, the ones that will last. The Judd Apatow (the man of the moment) produced "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" is one of those that will last.

Jason Segel (who also wrote the screenplay) is Peter Bretter, a successful composer of a TV show called "Crime Scene" which features a lot of (as my colleague Rory the Movie Idiot would say) David-Caruso-In-CSI:Miami-Taking-Off-His-Sunglasses-And-Saying-Something-Supposedly-Witty moments. And it just so happens Peter happens to be dating the star of the show, Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). The movie smartly does not take long to hurtle us to the good stuff - Sarah breaking up with Peter in the scene you've probably heard about even if you haven't read a review. Let's say it involves Peter in quite a compromising position and while you've gotta' give massive points to Segel (and Bell) for forging ahead with this I think the scene actually plays better in theory then onscreen. But that's no matter.

Peter tries unsuccessfully to forget Sarah Marshall and then decides to try clearing his head by taking a vacation to Hawaii. Trouble is Sarah Marshall herself has turned up at the exact same hotel in Hawaii with her new boyfriend, a self-absorbed pop singer named Aldous Snow (Russell Brand). Luckily for Peter the receptionist at the hotel happens to come in the form of Mila Kunis as Rachel Jansen, a sublime, go with the flow lady who may assist Peter in more than just, shall we say, rebounding.

Segel's script, if you don't mind me saying, is absolutely brilliant, and for many reasons. There are tons of great lines and uproarious scenes and a performance at a bar of a song from a rock opera that I'll describe as being the best musical moment in a movie since "Once" and a fantastic update on the Knight In Shining Armor Moment, which, by the way, is vintage Apatow (can he already be vintage?) in that it takes a something gratuitous from earlier and makes it heroic later. But all those things I'll leave for you to discover.

The supporting characters in this film are not simply bountiful but rich, oh so rich. Jack McBrayer (you know him as the riotous Kenneth the Page on "30 Rock") is a newlywed having difficulty pleasuring his wife in the boudoir, which is the early front-runner for subplot of the year. Jonah Hill (who played the lead in "Superbad" and I think proves once and for all he works best as a supporting actor) is a host at the hotel restaurant who's got a little bit of a man crush on Aldous. Bill Hader (also of "Superbad") is Segel's stepbrother who is back at home dispensing advice - "let's pump the brakes" - via computer, though his wife Liz (Liz Cackowski), I thought, was just as funny as Hader. Even the hotel bartender generates serious laughs.

Our leads actually contain a little complexity. No, Aldous isn't exactly Macbeth but rather then simply making him dumber and dumber and more evil and more evil as the film progresses it chooses to reveal other characteristics and allows Peter to like him a little even if he still hates him a lot.

But there is one scene in particular that I need to mention without specifically mentioning it. I'll say it takes place on the patio of Sarah's hotel room between her and Peter and it's at this moment the movie goes from very good to great. I caught myself thinking early in the film, Gee, they're making Sarah awfully one note. But Segel's script has a lot of tricks up its sleeve and it's in this moment he reveals his biggest one.

The Perfect Girl Who Saves The Guy is a staple of films and one might be quick to accuse Mila Kunis's Rachel of being that girl in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" but watch it carefully and you will see, in fact, she doesn't. She assists him, she pushes him in the direction he needs and yearns to go, but she doesn't get him there. This movie shows it has more depth then just about every other movie of its ilk and shows us it will allow Peter's inevitable transformation come from himself.

I wrote these words last year and I think I'll write them again today, making this a sort of new Cinema Romantico tradition. Note the time in the log: I've seen the first great movie of 2008.

(Postscript: Many have said, and I'm sure there will be more to say it, that a guy like Segel could never actually attain a girl like Kristen Bell or Mila Kunis. Well, guess what? If it's your screenplay you can write whatever the hell you want. Them's the rules. So stand up attractive, hipper-than-thou cool guys and write some scripts for yourself. Any of you? None of you? Yeah. That's what I thought.)

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