While it's hardly unforgettable, the latest raunchy rom-com from prolific producer Judd Apatow ("The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "Knocked Up," "Superbad") is a genial timewaster.
Jason Segel, who also wrote the screenplay, plays Peter, a TV music composer utterly infatuated with his glamorous actress girlfriend (Kristen Bell). He's resigned to living in her shadow, writing suspense music for her cop show and toting her handbag at photo shoots, because he's convinced of her love. When she dumps him for a self-absorbed English rock star, the big softie dissolves into a quivering puddle of Jell-O. Peter's half-brother advises him to take a healing vacation to Hawaii, but it's out of the frying pan, into the volcano: Sarah and her new guy are checked into the same hotel.
There's a lot of material here you might remember from "The Breakup" and "The Heartbreak Kid," yet "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" twists familiar elements into amusing new shapes, braiding comically distraught heartache with sensitive romance and inside-showbiz comedy. Segel makes an agreeably troubled Everyman, unable to prevent himself from spying on Sarah, but pleasantly distracted by warm, pretty desk clerk Rachel (Mila Kunis). Segel's hound-dog face can express a dozen shades of heart-wrenching disappointment, then beam with unrestrained delight.
He's even convincing in handling scenes of complex mixed emotions, as when he has to admit that Sarah's egocentric beau (played to preening perfection by English comic Russell Brand) is the coolest dude he's ever met. That's the kind of weird, perceptive scene that Apatow-produced comedies pride themselves on, an idea most date movies would never address.
Technically, the film is run-of-the-mill. Director Nick Stoller has no great appreciation for Hawaii's natural beauty. Most of the island scenes could have been rendered as effectively with the actors standing in front of a bluescreen. The editing has no special punch, and for a film about rival musicians, there's not much of a score.
The appeal of these films is reconnecting with the Apatow stock company, watching them play badminton with punch lines and try on new disguises. Paul Rudd pops up as a stoned surfing instructor who seems about to tip over on dry land, Jonah Hill is a resort waiter with a desperate artistic crush on Brand, and Bill Hader circles the fringes of the story as Peter's half-brother, eager to steer him through the pitfalls of a breakup even though he's only had one relationship. Kunis, a newcomer to the stable, is a standout as the sympathetic clerk who gives Peter more to think about than his woes. The true star of the show, however, is Brand as the narcissistic rocker, a preposterously funny monster of ego. Here's hoping Apatow signs them both to a long-term contract.
The film takes the sensible attitude that the end of one thing can offer the beginning of another. Peter leaves the TV grind to pursue his passion project, a puppet musical about Dracula. That endeavor, complete with puppets from Jim Henson's workshop, occupies more space than it needs to in the final minutes. It's staged in a broad, exuberant fashion but seems out of place, like an extended trailer for the next Segel/Stoller collaboration, the upcoming Muppet movie. Deflecting attention from the newborn romance between Peter and Rachel, it ends the movie on a note of forced whimsy rather than emotional closure. Maybe next time out they'll get the ending right.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186