The broken-hearted Forgetting Sarah Marshall runs into the same snags
and Jennifer Aniston
encountered when they suffered through The Break-Up in 2006. It's tough for anyone to scrape together laughs from a painful separation, particularly one that sends our main character into a debilitating, melancholic funk. And so it's no surprise that this eventually uproarious comedy only attains full swagger after discarded Peter (Jason Segel
) proceeds with what the title tells him to do.
Peter's ex is Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell
), a red-hot Hollywood actress famous for playing the sexy detective on a C.S.I. clone -- we're shown clips of the fictional program, which allows Billy Baldwin to do a spot-on David Caruso impersonation. Sarah unceremoniously dumps Peter after five years without giving him a legitimate reason for her unhappiness. He has to learn via Access Hollywood that Sarah has been spotted with British pop singer Aldous Snow (stand-up comedian Russell Brand
). Article continues below
The amusing premise needs a massive coincidence if Peter's story is to go anywhere, and here it is. To forget Sarah, our beloved sad sack takes a Hawaiian vacation where, of course, he runs into his former flame. That I don't mind. But we're asked to believe that Peter headed to the luxurious Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu's north shore without reservations, and then is shocked to see Sarah there? Even worse, instead of showing Peter the door, the gorgeous desk clerk (Mila Kunis
) gives him a suite that's usually reserved for the likes of Oprah Winfrey or the Pope because, you know, they rarely use it and it's presently unoccupied. Oh, and then she starts to fall in love with him.
Segel wrote the Marshall screenplay, supposedly after an actual celebrity break-up. Like his producer Judd Apatow, Segel uses raunchy humor to protect a sentimental core. The script also shows a better understanding of the guys in the film. Peter's a soft, doughy underachiever, but Segel stops short of making him whiny or annoying. Snow's a lout, but Brand doesn't pretend to make him noble. Sarah, on the other hand, is an unstable weathervane fluctuating on the whims of the men in her life, and Bell has no choice but to play her as both a self-centered starlet and a charming, sarcastic dream girl.
The Marshall script has its moments (a Dracula musical makes for a memorable showstopper), but first-time director Nicolas Stoller
hasn't figured out pacing yet. The comedy's first half needs assistance overcoming Peter's sadness. Too many of Stoller's scenes end awkwardly, with Peter crying or someone looking down on him with pity. Segel rebounds in the last half, but Stoller halts momentum with lame physical gags. There's one scene involving Brand and life-sized chess pieces that's as effective as cement sneakers on a marathon runner.
Segel almost rivals Seth Rogen
for top horse in Apatow's comedic stable. The Segel-Apatow relationship stretches back to the 1999 television comedy Freaks and Geeks, and includes Undeclared and Knocked Up. Other Marshall cameos spring from Apatow's varsity team. Jonah Hill
) stalks the male leads as a creepy waiter. Paul Rudd (The 40-Year-Old Virgin) amuses without trying too hard as a burned-out surf instructor.
The rest of the Marshall cast has television roots. Kunis and Bell are best known for That '70s Show and Veronica Mars, respectively. Funnyman Bill Hader is a Saturday Night Live guy, and scene-stealer Jack McBrayer also steals scenes on NBC's hilarious 30 Rock. Segel has built an audience as part of CBS' How I Met Your Mother ensemble.
I mention this because you notice that the Marshall cast consists of television-sized personalities. The performances are serviceable, but no actor swells enough to fill Stoller's screen. In fact, if you end up quoting anyone from the picture, it will be the randy Brand. Thanks to his sharp delivery, almost all of his lines are ones you won't soon forget.