Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Posted on September 30, 2008 at 8:00 am

“How I Met Your Mother’s” Jason Segal wrote and stars in the latest from the Apatow atelier, another raunchy comedy with a tender heart, and once again the story of a childish and helpless man who is perpetually longing for sex and love but inept with women.
Segal plays Peter who is dumped by the title character in the first scene, and who is so devastatingly nonplussed that he stands before her — and us — naked. Yes, record-keepers, while Apatow’s “Walk Hard” gave us what was probably the first mainstream close-up of an anonymous full Monty, this is the watershed moment for the R rating, at least four sightings of the Monty of the main character.
Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell) is the star of a successful television series. After the deadly “We have to talk,” she tells Peter there is no one else but it is soon clear that she is now with a self-absorbed rock star named Aldous Snow (British comic Russell Brand). Peter flees to Hawaii to get away from it all only to find that Sarah and Aldous are staying at the same hotel. Peter sobs in the suite given to him by Rachel (Mila Kunis), a beautiful and sympathetic hotel manager, while Sarah and Aldous have a lot of very loud and athletic sex. Peter feels bad. He spends time with Rachel.
There are some very, very funny moments in this film, though many of them come from seeing Peter behave like a blubbering boob. Apatow regulars Paul Rudd (a happily stoned surfing instructor) and Jonah Hill (a hotel restaurant manager and major Aldous Snow fan) are underused, but Bill Heder as Peter’s brother gets in some good moments giving long-distance advice.
I’m getting a little impatient with these clueless boy-man characters, though. It may be funny that Peter (and Seth Rogan in “Knocked Up” and Steve Carell in “40 Year Old Virgin” etc. etc.) do not understand anything about women, but the people who make the movies should at least make it seem that they know a few. The Apatow crew needs to find a way to create a female character as fully-realized and messy as the men. Both Sarah and Rachel are bland and frustratingly inconsistent, behaving and reacting in whatever way Segal thinks will be funniest for Peter to react to at a given moment. It is a shame to write off, almost write out, half of the population and half of the equation in a movie about romantic complications, especially with actresses as lovely and talented as Bell and Kunis.
Segal writes some hilarious lines, and there is a deliriously random and extremely funny detour into vampire musical theater puppetry. But the film’s happiest surprise is Brand, who seems to be in his own movie, which is perfect for the role of the self-absorbed rock star. His reaction to the gift of a shirt is funnier than all four Montys and singing vampire puppets put together.


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