Forgetting Sarah Marshall is yet another classic produced by Judd Apatow. This time the Freaks & Geeks alumni in the spotlight is Jason Segel. Segel wrote the script and has the starring role of Peter. Peter is a composer for the TV show “Crime Scene”, the star of which is Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell), his longtime girlfriend. Early on, Peter is dumped by Sarah in one of the better breakup scenes I have ever seen. Yes it’s hilarious that Peter happens to be nude when she breaks the news but the performances are what’s really impressive. Having difficulty getting over being single, Peter leaves for a vacation in Hawaii. However, it turns out Sarah is there, when he arrives, with her new boyfriend, a famous pop star named Aldous Snow (Russel Brand).
Yes, the plot in it’s simplest form doesn’t sound too great. In comparison to 40-Year Old Virgin or Knocked Up it seems almost sitcom-y. Luckily, that isn’t the case. The plot merely provides a scenario for all the actors to shine. Also, it is evident that this was written straight from the heart, and the sincerity is quite powerful. The laughs come quick in this movie and they’re big laughs at that, very few cheap jokes and gags to be found. Nearly every funny part comes from the strength of the writing or the acting rather than vulgarity or slap stick. That’s not to say the movie isn’t dirty, but it certainly is all in good taste. Some scenes are absolute magic.
Director Nicholas Stoller is a master of comedic editing. Flashbacks/forwards rush to the screen out of nowhere, and are gone just as quick, but they enhance the movie extensively. An example of this method is when Peter is asked by a friendly local to help cook a pig. The movie quickly flashes forward to Peter having to slaughter the animal. It’s loud and surprising and is one of the funniest moments in the entire film. Stoller is another person Judd Apatow has been loyal to, having been a writer on the short-lived series Undeclared.
The performances are shockingly perfect. Apatow is known to have said that out of all the young actors he worked with on Freaks & Geeks, Jason Segel was the one he thought would make it big in movies first. For those unaware of the talented cast of the TV show, it included James Franco and Seth Rogen (who are reunited in the upcoming Pineapple Express). It’s very easy to see why Judd thought that. Segel may be playing just another version of his character from Freaks & Geeks and Undeclared, but he has now mastered it. He has always been great at playing the sensitive, low self esteem guy, but Segel steps it up here. To see him in this movie is to see legendary comedic work, he delivers the lines in ways no one else could and always, in a way, plays it serious. His character is not sacrificed for comedy. He has created a real man who cries several times earning sympathy not pity or shame. Jason Segel is excellent, but long time fans knew he had it in him. The bigger surprise is how superb everyone else is. Kristen Bell fearlessly takes on the role of Sarah Marshall, and manages to never play the bitch, which so many actresses would have. Bell gives Marshall humanity even when we don’t like her. This pays off big later in the film, when our perspective changes. Mila Kunis is a revelation in this film. Her role is so key to making the movie really work and she delivers perfection. She shows such an awareness of her acting that we have never seen from her in That 70’s Show. She doesn’t use tricks, her facial expressions are varied and real and her use of the tone of her voice is genius. Somewhat unknown actor Russel Brand is brilliant as Aldous Snow. The egotistical pop star is not the hardest part to play but he elevates his character beyond expectation. The four main players all deserver to be stars, and with this movie they show that that could be in either comedy or drama. The supporting cast is remarkable, led by Paul Rudd as a stoner surfer and Jonah Hill as a waiter obsessed with Aldous Snow.
It’s a bold statement, but thanks to Judd Apatow I believe this to be the true golden age of comedies. Consistently, we are seeing comedies that while being hilarious manage to convey meaning as well as provide at least a little insight. It is truly a great time to be a lover of film. Especially when it seems there’s always another great comedy around the corner. With Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the streak continues and Jason Segel has now emerged as a star and a superb writer. It seems the list of great actors, writers and directors working with Apatow keeps growing. So knowing that, let me suggest a scary thought. That even after living through The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad and Forgetting Sarah Marshall that the best is still to come.