Review: “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” (2008)

Jason Segel has a face made for break-up movies. Or just break-ups, period. Whether he’s warbling a serenade for the woman of his dreams (the notorious “Lady” scene in “Freaks and Geeks”) or crying naked in front of his just-became-ex-girlfriend, there’s a congenial openness to Segel’s face that is appealing. He may be an actor, but he looks like the down-to-earth sort who would wear Costco sweatpants, eat giant bowls of Fruit Loops in front of the TV and drink grocery store wine. This is a big reason why Segel’s labor of love and humor, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” is so enjoyable: it’s funny and perceptive without being pretentious, and it’s endearing but not mushy or overly sentimental. “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” is a realistic romantic comedy unafraid to let everything hang out … figuratively and literally.

Segel’s male perspective also gives the genre a welcome and refreshing twist. While so many rom-coms sing the “good woman done wrong” blues, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” offers a different tune. This time around it’s the nice guy who’s had his heart turned into a smooshed MoonPie. Peter (Segel) loves the blonde, petite and beautiful Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell, terrific), a high-profile actress. But there’s a problem: Sarah’s career has turned her life busy and exciting, while Peter is at a dead standstill. When Sarah, frustrated with his homebody attitude, dumps him (in the best break-up scene ever written), Peter’s whole world collapses. He turns wallowing into an art form. Finally, a miserable and slovenly Peter takes the advice of his stepbrother (Bill Hader) and flies off to Hawaii for a break. Enter Life Interruption No. 2: Peter ends up at the same hotel as Sarah … who is there with her new boyfriend, Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) … who is a rich, famous rock star and bonafide sex god in leather pants.

From this point on, Segel puts his own flourish on the romantic comedy formula, providing minor tweaks here and there and adding in a host of comical, unusual, even touching secondary characters. Peter does meet a girl, hotel concierge Rachel (Mila Kunis), but she is not a damsel waiting to be whisked away from her unhappy life. She’s also the antithesis of Sarah Marshall’s spoiled, self-absorbed diva-in-training: Rachel is funny, kind and content with her life. She coaxes Peter out of his drunken, weepy stupor, encourages him to take a few risks, pursue his odd dream — write a puppet rock opera about Dracula — and get on with his life. Kudos to Segel for writing a potential love interest who is no selfless savior type. He deserves some high-fives, too, for crafting minor characters who are as funny as they are interesting. Anxious newlywed Darald (Jack McBrayer) worries himself sick about his lack of sexual prowess. Paul Rudd plays against his usual hyper-sarcastic type as Chuck, a perpetually fried and apathetic surfing instructor who lives by his own slacker credo: “When life gives you lemons, just say ‘fuck the lemons’ and bail.” That’s fortune cookie wisdom at its most original. 

The real standout, and the clearest indicator that Segel wants to do things his own way, is Aldous Snow. In a less imaginative film, Aldous would be a sneering, six-packed villain of the vilest order, or a brainless moron to be ordered about; in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” he’s friendly, witty, charming and often quite insightful. Brand delivers the rocker’s many insights as only Russell Brand can: with a mix of bravado and cheek. He compares vacationing with the demanding Sarah to going on holiday with Joseph Goebbels, and when creepy fan Matthew (Jonah Hill) asks him if he’s listened to his demo, Brand’s retort is killer: “I was gonna listen to that, but then, um, I just carried on living my life.” In fact, Aldous — who later got his own movie, “Get Him to the Greek” — may be the most layered character in the film. Anyone who complains about the small female roles missed the point. “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” isn’t about women, much the same way “Sex and the City” wasn’t about men. Segel simply means to tell a personal and painful story from a male perspective, and he does — flaccid penis and all.

Grade: A-

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One to Watch: “You Again”

Call me a marshmallow, but I develop an automatic soft spot for a movie about a late bloomer (Kristen Bell) who gets the chance to square off against the girl (Odette Yustman) who made her high school years hell on Earth. Especially if that movie also pits Jamie Lee Curtis against Sigourney Weaver. And invites Betty White and Kristen Chenoweth to the party. So many funny ladies in one movie can’t be that bad.

I’m just a little sorry they didn’t ask me to write it. Actually, Jessica Bryant is probably happy about that. Jessica Foster too.

Not that I hold grudges.

 

Join the cause to save the “Veronica Mars” movie

Just when we think she’s in, they yank her back out.

Months ago, buzz started that Rob Thomas was (seriously) considering making a feature-length film devoted to die-hart “Veronica Mars” fans left unsatisfied by the show’s unceremonious 2007 cancellation. Now there’s talk — from The WB, who evilly axed this great, great show — that there’s not enough fan interest to warrant a movie.

Oh, studio bigwigs, hell hath no fury like really, really zealous fans scorned!

So Kristen Bell, none other than Veronica Mars herself, is asking fans via Twitter to amp up the call for a movie to give us the finale we so rightly deserve to this smart, funny, wildly original and underappreciated TV show cancelled before its time.

So fans, log on to Warner Bros. Movies and go to “Feedback” to show just how very interested you are. Or write to: Warner Bros. Movies, 4000 Warner Blvd., Burbank, CA 91522. If you find additional avenues to harangue (I mean, ahem, contact) WB, use them! Let’s all do our part to give “Veronica Mars” the sendoff it deserves.

Why? Well, I think we all know the world needs a blonde in a hamster ball.