April seems to be the month for romantic comedies, as this is the fourth one I’ve seen in a row. Admittedly I’ve been seeking them out as, I recently read an article in Creative Screenwriting interviewing the perpetrators writers of the following films: Leatherheads, Run, Fat Boy, Run, Smart People, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and The Accidental Husband. The last one doesn’t open until August, maybe I’ll have learned the lesson by then that if I want to watch a good romantic comedy I should rent Bringing Up Baby.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall comes from the assembly line of Judd Apatow, who seems to have reached the rare air and become an adjective (Apatovian?). I liked The 40-Year-Old Virgin, was meh on Knocked Up, and lurved Superbad, but this last one, which has his stamp on it as an executive producer, shows signs the machine is getting rusty. It is written by and stars Jason Segel, who apparently was in one of Apatow’s TV shows (Freaks and Geeks, I think) and is another of those male-oriented raunchy comedies that have a gooey caramel center. It’s getting some pretty solid reviews, too, but I thought it fell flat.
Where to start? Well, let’s get the plot out of the way. Segel is Peter, a doofus composer for a TV show who is dating the sex symbol star and the title character of our film. She dumps him in the first scene, while he is buck fucking naked. I hope this was done for laughs because no one wants to see unathletic men sans clothing in films, especially their dicks. He is heartbroken, and takes his brother’s advice to go on a vacation. He ends up at a resort in Hawaii where, surprise! Sarah is spending time canoodling with her new beau, a preening peacock of a musician, played by Russell Brand.
Okay, that’s a pretty spectacular coincidence, even by brain-dead Hollywood movie standards. But it occurs about twenty minutes in, so you can either stew about the mathematical improbability of it or you can let it go and get on with the movie.
Peter decides to stick it out at the resort, which seems to be staffed exclusively by colorful movie types who only occasionally work. One of them is a comely customer service agent, winningly played by Mila Kunis. Peter finds himself attracted to her, but of course there are complications.
The first problem with this film, even before the coincidence, is Segel. He is no leading man. I’m thinking of all the other actors who have been in these types of films in the last few years: Steve Carell, Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, even Seth Rogen (but not Ben Stiller, please!) and they would have all been far better and more realistic. In fact, perhaps the ideal actor is actually in this film, wasted in a small part as a perpetually stoned surf instructor–Paul Rudd. Segel is more cut out for the hero’s best friend, or the guy who is wrong for the heroine. And I’m not talking about looks. I’m not the type, like Jeffrey Wells, who gets obsessed with less than Adonis-like men playing guys who date beautiful women. But I just couldn’t buy for a second that Kristen Bell’s Sarah Marshall would be with this guy for five years. Do TV stars even associate with the composers of their shows? How did they meet?
Secondly, this film is only intermittently funny. Superbad was hysterically funny, and though Knocked Up had its problems it was at least good for some yuks, but Forgetting Sarah Marshall did not tickle my funny bone. The trailer for Pineapple Express, which played before the feature, was funnier. Segel’s whining after the breakup is not funny. The spoofing of Bell’s TV show is not funny. The Dracula puppet musical Segel is writing is not funny. Even Jonah Hill (looking more and more like Larry Fine) is not funny as a ubiquitous waiter.
About the only thing that is funny is Brand as the rock star Aldous Snow, lead singer of Infant Sorrow. He’s an inspired creation, and though he has a lot of funny lines, a lot of the credit goes to the actor. I would have loved to see a film about him.
The film is also about fifteen minutes too long, and the direction, by Nicholas Stoller, doesn’t help. There are some awkward moments and some lines completely thrown away. This is Stoller’s directorial debut, and his major credit is writing Fun With Dick and Jane, which I think speaks for itself.
As for the two actresses, well they are both fetching. At one point a character suggests Segel should have a threesome with them, and I’ll bet onanists all over the world are filing that one away in their fantasy drawers. Kunis, in particular, is quite radiant and leaves no traces of the unpleasant character she played on That Seventies Show. However, both are not particularly real people, and this may be the heart of what’s wrong with this picture. It’s essentially a fantasy, no more real that Lord of the Rings. At the end of this picture these two gorgeous fillies are in competition over this lumpen sack of meat. It’s a pleasant daydream, but no–not going to happen.
Apatow’s other pictures also contain this whiff of science-fiction, but when they are funny they are easier to take. This film is just too often depressing.