Friday, April 25, 2008

From the Archive: "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" Film Review

Film Rating: A

Welcome to The Archive, a comprehensive collection of reviews dating back to 2007, originally written for The Denver Post’s YourHub.Com website and print edition!  In the archive, you’ll find hundreds of movie, DVD, Blu-Ray, and TV reviews, along with other special features.  You can access the complete Archive Collection by clicking here, and read about the archive project by clicking here. 

Continue reading after the jump to access my original review of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.”

From the Jonathan R. Lack Review Archives:
Sarah Marshall”
Originally published April 25th, 2008

The verdict is in (if it wasn’t in months and months ago): when you want great comedy, stick with Judd Apatow.  The producer/writer/director has overseen, written, or directed (and sometimes all three) some of the best comedies of the last few years.  In 2007 alone he delivered us Knocked Up, Superbad and Walk Hard; prior to that, he’s produced Will Ferrell classics like Anchorman or Talladega Nights, and directed the widely acclaimed 40 Year-Old Virgin.  With a team of various directors, writers and actors, the Apatow comedies are always miles ahead of your average mainstream comedy.  March saw one small bump in the road with the general (but not total) misfire that was Drillbit Taylor.  It took only one film for the Apatow train to get back on track, though, and that movie is Forgetting Sarah Marshall. 

The movie begins with Peter Bretter (Jason Segel) watching an Access Hollywood special on his famous girlfriend, Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell), star of the NBC show Crime Scene.  Peter is completely oblivious to how terrible and seemingly one-sided the romance is, and is crushed when Sarah breaks up with him.  After a bout of womanizing and a nervous breakdown while working, he decides to take a vacation to Hawaii to try and forget her.  Things get complicated when Peter arrives in Hawaii, only to find that Sarah and her insanely hip rock-star boyfriend, Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) are staying at the same resort.  Desperately trying to put his life back together, he’s helped by a laid-back, fun-loving resort employee, Rachel (Mila Kunis).

It’s a simple premise that’s been done before; what sets the film apart from the bunch is how well it executes the premise.  Star Jason Segel also wrote the script, which is a very smart, well-paced comedy with characters that jump off the screen.  But what really makes the movie a winner is the amount of heart infused into the plot and humor; the whole thing feels very real and endearing.

The characters drive the simplistic plot to amazing heights.  Main character Peter could have ended up being very unlikable in a weaker script and with an inferior actor.  Yes, he’s totally pathetic, and is a complete mess.  But Segel also makes him very realistic; he’s a genuinely good guy in a horrible mess of a situation, and we can sympathize with him.  By the end, he’s a character we can all root for.  No comedy is complete without this kind of star.

They also could have made Sarah Marshall an unredeemable jerk, but instead, she has legitimate reasons for breaking up with Peter.  She’s not perfect, but neither is Peter, and it makes the movie feel more genuine.  There’s two sides to every argument, and while we hate Sarah for hurting Peter, we can also see her side of things. 

One of the film’s best characters is the hotel greeter Rachel, who helps Peter come out of his shell.  She’s cute, fun, and has a charming personality.  Rachel is simply perfect for a guy like Peter, and it strengthens the romantic center of the film.  Aldous Snow, Sarah’s rocker boyfriend is hilarious for a number of reasons.  He’s over the top quirky and does some downright mean things, but he doesn’t seem to be a bad guy.  He’s just dumb, and because of that is lovably hilarious. 

The movie is full of hilarious supporting characters as well.  Segel’s script finds its main strength in characterization; the film is endearing and, in the end, heartwarming because of the multitude of great characters.  Of particular note are two characters played by Apatow regulars Paul Rudd and Jonah Hill; the first is a stoner surfer with no long-term memory, and the second is a waitor with a stalker-like obsession for Aldous Snow.

Above all, the film is funny.  I’m talking about roll-on-the-floor-laugh-out-loud-funny from start to finish.  One of the best sequences happens when Peter performs a number from his Dracula musical (envisioned to be performed by puppets) at a bar in Hawaii; the lyrics of the song are brilliant.  There’s plenty of raunchy humor (a normality for any Apatow comedy) but the film strikes the right balance between sitcom-style humor and sex-jokes.  The result is a movie with enough laughs for 10 individual comedies. 

The marriage of great humor, wonderful characters and a dramatic core makes the movie a winner.  Forgetting Sarah Marshall is a movie about a man turning his life around, which provides a dramatic center.  The best comedies have this dramatic center; we can laugh harder at something rooted firmly in our world.  Most comedies bearing the name of Judd Apatow blend these elements, making them all winners. 

Forgetting Sarah Marshall proudly sits among these film; it’s not as good as last year’s Knocked Up, but it’s definitely the best comedy of 2008 (as of April).  The year is only just beginning, but I’d say this is my second favorite film of the year so far (the first being January’s In Bruges).  This is a comedy well worth the price of admission; it doesn’t patronize your intelligence, and gives you something more than cheap laughs.  I like this movie more and more as I continue to think about it; it gets my extremely high recommendation.  

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