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Wednesday, April 16, 2008 02:32 pm

Forget Sarah Marshall? Hardly.

The Judd Apatow factory churns out another winner

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Forgetting Sarah Marshall Running time 1:52 Rated R ShowPlace West
Untitled Document
Forgetting Sarah Marshall Running time 1:52 Rated R ShowPlace West
We’ve all been there — you’re going along in a relationship, thinking everything is hunky-dory, when all of a sudden your partner lowers the boom. While you’ve been in a state of bliss, your partner informs you that he or she has been suffering quietly and needs a change, needs to move on, needs to find himself or herself. Your partner assures you that it’s not you — but that doesn’t help when you’re left with a broken heart, which will soon be transformed into a festering heap of resentment and hate.
Peter Bretter finds himself in this position in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the latest comedy from the Judd Apatow factory. The brains behind The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up only serves as producer here, but his fingerprints are everywhere; the film’s biggest laughs, and most poignant moments, come as its characters are caught at their most vulnerable. What’s most refreshing is that Apatow alum Jason Segel finally gets his turn in the spotlight. After having cut his teeth on Freaks and Geeks and looming in the background in Knocked Up, the actor, who also wrote the script, lets it all hang out physically and emotionally as the heartbroken Peter, a guy with a big heart whose fatal mistake is that he wears it on his sleeve. Of course, it’s easy to see why Peter is so forlorn. His girlfriend, Sarah (Kristen Bell), is a beautiful TV star and makes him look good whenever he’s holding her purse while she knocks ’em dead on the red carpet. However, she decides it’s time to trade up, and so she dumps him for British pop star Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), a vacuous poseur who’s about as deep as a puddle. Reeling, Peter jets to Hawaii to forget his troubles — but, as fate would have it, he checks into the same resort where Sarah and Aldous are staying. The only bright spot is Rachel (Mila Kunis), a hotel clerk who takes pity on the poor shlub and does her best to get him out of his room and involved in various activities.
Sure, the premise is contrived, as are the premises of most of the films from Apatow’s production company. However, the human truths that emerge from these situations are rich enough to excuse the vagaries of the plot. Segel lays himself bare — especially during the agonizing breakup scene, in which he starts with nothing but a towel on and ends with far less. Though we’re moved by his plight, we recognize our own frailties in him and can’t help being amused at the situations he finds himself in. This sense of empathy is what makes Marshall, Virgin, and Knocked Up so successful: The films deal with everyday people forced to combat typical emotional turmoil that’s been exaggerated by a comic premise that bears enough of a sense of realism that we can relate to it. Another key element in the success of these films is the fine work done by what’s becoming Apatow’s repertory company. Bill Hader (Saturday Night Live) and Paul Rudd (Knocked Up) show up as Peter’s confidant and an addled surf instructor, respectively, and Jonah Hill (Superbad) appears as a musically inclined waiter. Each is given his turn in the spotlight and makes the most of it, giving Peter solid advice in his own way while reveling in his own idiosyncrasies. Bell shines as well, in a thankless part that she makes her own by showing the character’s vulnerabilities, and Kunis reveals a softer, more winning side than she ever exposed on That 70’s Show. As for Brand, he’s so outrageously narcissistic that although you initially laugh at his antics you come to sympathize with his delusions. Forgetting Sarah Marshall is a movie of great comic riches, so many so that it’s hard to list them all here. After all, there’s Jack McBrayer from 30 Rock as a newlywed so addled by his religious beliefs that he cannot satisfy his bride and a puppet-show version of Dracula that will have you looking at the Count in an entirely new way. In the end, you wind up thinking that Sarah is a bit of a loser for leaving Peter — because we certainly don’t want to.
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