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Forgetting Sarah Marshall

[rating:4]
Director: Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Starring: Jason Segal, Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell

This is a much better film than it should be. It stars and is written by some minor actor on a minor sitcom, co-stars the most annoying girl on That Pretty Annoying 70s Sitcom, and is about young people dating. Honestly, why even try to make a good movie out of that? But hey, 20 years ago, it would’ve been written by Nora Ephron and have starred Meg Ryan, so let’s count our blessings.

(People rightfully say the Bush Era is a low point in American history, what with the stolen elections, the nine-eleven, the lying us into wars we can’t get out of, the secret prisons, suspension of habeas corpus, general erosion of civil rights, the Katrina disgrace … sure, points taken. But in these two presidential terms, Nora Ephron has only written one movie, Bewitched and no one even saw that. So don’t tell me it’s been all bad news. But I digress.)

Jason Segal has written a really appealing film. It could have used the tiniest bit of fine tuning, but in general he avoids cheap humor, and plays the subject of heartbreak with a fine mix of outright parody, the big-laugh comedy, and genuine, as the studio execs say, “heart.” There’s a moment toward the end of Forgetting Sarah Marshall where Segal’s character has gotten his life into a pretty good place, and he’s presented a unique opportunity to blow it. As he lingers on the edge of making or not making the mistake, the audience in my theater, which had been properly silent, other than laughing, throughout the film, visibly cringed and audibly groaned, so invested in the character’s journey had they become. Not a lot of goofy comedies can get entire audiences going, “No! Don’t do it!” with genuine worry.

That he’s so convincing as the loser dork dropped by TV star Sarah Marshall (the always engaging, but never quite fully human—and therefore perfectly cast—Kristen Bell) caught up in absolute weepy angst on a Hawaiian holiday is not nearly as surprising as how engaging and likable Mila Kunis is as the hotel desk chick with whom he starts a new fling.

The cast is well-rounded with a bunch of minor characters, the only name among them being Paul Rudd, who coasts through is role as a stoned surf instructor, and a really standout job by Russell Brand as Bell’s new boyfriend, an over-the-top rock star who is exactly like Ricky Gervais if he looked like he some long-haired rocker dude.

Nicholas Stoller, in his directing debut, takes a solid cast, a strong script and a beautiful locale and gets the hell out of the way. The film pretty well chugs along, and the fact that it seems to run a bit longer than your average comedy only makes you glad to spend a little more time in this world.

* * *

Worst thing about the film: This weird billboard campaign showing up in commuter train stations and on billboards in some urban markets. The type of film, the type of relationships or issues it suggests really don’t match the movie you get. Which is good—the movie you get is much better. I’m just saying.

Also, Segal’s character works, throughout the film, on a dream artistic project that I will not spoil here, but is so brilliant that it must, must be produced for real. Seriously.