I have Tom over at Digital Shortbread to thank for persuading me to watch this rom-com by Nicholas Stoller, a director and writer who has become something of a stalwart within the World Of Apatow during the past decade. Forgetting Sarah Marshall is one of the better comedies of the last ten years, despite the plot being as predictable as they come, and it features charming performances by its principal cast members, who are thankfully on good comic form to boot. Chief among these is the likeable Jason Segel, playing everyman musician Peter Bretter; unceremoniously dumped by his long-term partner Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell), an actor on a popular primetime TV show called Crime Scene: Scene Of The Crime, Peter is left to wallow in his own misery, burning photographs by day and crying into his cereal at night. After five years together Sarah has grown tired of his slovenliness, but the main reason for the split is her fling with pompous lothario Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), an English rock star peddling insincere ditties about the environment. Persuaded by his step-brother Brian (Bill Hader) to take a vacation, Peter flies to Hawaii and finds – in one of the unlikeliest plot twists I’ve ever witnessed – that both Sarah and Aldous are staying at the same resort.
Of course as soon as Peter claps eyes on Mila Kunis’ hotel receptionist Rachel the rest of the hotel-set story is instantly obvious, but at least there are sustained laughs as it plays out. Penned by Segel himself, the screenplay is big on self-deprecating humour and has fun at the expense of its male characters, but unfortunately the female characters suffer a little alongside them: those played by Bell and Kunis are mainly there in order to make Peter feel bad / feel better about himself / feel bad again / feel better about himself again, but at least Bell features in the brief but note-perfect CSI: Miami-style spoofs, which also feature cameos from William Baldwin and Jason Bateman. There’s also quite a lot of improvisation, by the looks of things, and comedian Brand in particular seizes the opportunity; I don’t particularly like the guy, and I was initially put off from watching Forgetting Sarah Marshall because he’s (a) in it, and (b) he’s playing a version of his own public persona, but I can’t deny that he’s amusing at times and I was surprised that he actually reigns in the hair flicks and bug-eyed stares seen elsewhere.
Brand’s Snow could easily have been the out-and-out villain of the piece, but Segel takes a gamble and allows us to witness the character’s pleasant, friendly side: poor old Peter looks lost and lonely at dinner, for example, and even though it’s excruciatingly embarassing Snow’s attempts to include him in a (non-sexual) threesome are genuine and well-intended. There are slightly-funnier-than-average roles for Apatowland regulars Paul Rudd, Jack McBrayer and Jonah Hill too, the former a half-baked surf teacher, the second a newlywed husband struggling to deal with the finer points of sexual intercourse and the latter a hotel waiter who can barely hide his obsession with Aldous Snow. Granted the recurring appearances of such actors (as well as Hader) in the various films produced by, written by or directed by Apatow often borders on the smugly self-congratulatory, despite their individual talents, but Stoller keeps the focus on his leading foursome and the film’s all the better for it. The romantic drama is very much by the book, and as simple as it gets, but there’s enough around the edges – Peter’s rock opera about the life of Dracula, for example – to ensure the laughs keep coming, while the chemistry shared between Segel and Kunis ensures that their characters’ mutual attraction seems just about plausible.
Directed by: Nicholas Stoller.
Written by: Jason Segel.
Starring: Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, Russell Brand, Bill Hader, Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, Jack McBrayer.
Cinematography: Russ T. Alsobrook.
Editing: William Kerr.
Music: Lyle Workman.
Running Time: 112 minutes.