Fun With Feelings

A bunch of familiar TV faces shine on the big screen in 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall'

The Judd Apatow comedy train has hit a few recent bumps. After last year's excellent Superbad and Knocked Up, we've gotten mediocre fare like Walk Hard and the just-north-of-horseshit Drillbit Taylor.

Jason Segel, a hilarious bit player in Knocked Up, gets the limelight in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, a comedy that, while not as consistent as some of Apatow's classic efforts, certainly belongs in the same class. Thanks to a stellar comedic effort from Segel and a cast of Apatow regulars including Jonah Hill, Paul Rudd and Bill Hader, the laughs are consistent, often original and laced with nasty doses of reality.

Peter Bretter (Segel) likes life well enough. His girlfriend, Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell), is the hot star of a CSI-type TV show (co-starring Billy Baldwin!), and Bretter does the soundtrack music for the show. He lounges around the house, eating large basins of Froot Loops, watching TV and waiting for his love to come home. He breaks away on occasion to actually write music, including a Dracula musical (with puppets) that he hopes to make someday.

Sarah then dumps Peter, in a hilarious scene featuring a detailed study of male anatomy--and Peter is obliterated. He and brother Brian (the eternally funny Bill Hader) head out to the clubs, where Peter thinks casual sex might snap him out of his funk. That plan fails hilariously, and Peter sets his sights on a happy trip to Hawaii.

There's a small problem with the happy trip: Sarah is staying at the same resort Peter has chosen, and she's there with her new beau, British pop star Aldous Snow (a scene-stealing Russell Brand). Peter must deal with his grief while the main catalyst for his sorrow is practically next door.

It's a nightmare, and first-time director Nicholas Stoller has a deft touch with uncomfortable comedy. Segel--who also wrote the movie--has come up with scene after scene of horrific breakup situations.

What makes the film so funny and real is that every one of the characters has major flaws, but they have endearing qualities as well. Rather than concocting something where Sarah and Aldous are hateful and repugnant, Bell and Brand are given the chance to make them somewhat sympathetic and, in the case of Aldous, blissfully outrageous.

While poking fun at her own television stardom (Veronica Mars), this film should help establish Bell as a legitimate movie star. This character has "bitch" written all over her, yet Bell makes Sarah somebody you can relate to, a person who has made mistakes and doesn't enjoy the collateral damage those mistakes have caused. She's also pretty damn good with the funny stuff. Bell is hereby forgiven for Pulse. (Well, maybe not totally forgiven. That film left scars on my brain ... large, skull-cramping scars.)

As Peter's new love interest, resort-employee Rachel (Mila Kunis, of That '70s Show) proves she has some comedic chops. She portrays Rachel as a laid-back sort who can flip on her psycho switch when necessary. I've never been impressed with Kunis before, but she's great in this movie.

Hill, Rudd and Hader are their usual reliable selves. Hill is especially good as a resort worker who has a serious man-crush on Aldous Snow, giving him demo CDs and trying to touch his face. Rudd has little screen time, but he's funny as a forgetful surf instructor who likes weed. Hader is simply one of the great new comedic faces on the scene today--and keep an eye on Brand, whose lampooning of pop stars is some of the best rock-boy spoofing since Spinal Tap.

All said, this movie belongs to Segel (who can currently be seen on TV's How I Met Your Mother). Apatow has done a nice job giving Segel and Seth Rogen (both formerly of Freaks and Geeks) great roles to chew on.

It's been reported Segel is writing the next Muppet movie. Given what he does here with a Dracula puppet, that could be good news.

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