Forgetting Sarah Marshall ***
For all of its seeming assembly-line predictability, "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" turns out to be a hilariously subversive take on manhood and romance in the 21st century. It also showcases a nervy, unflappable but ultimately sweet performance by Jason Segel that should turn the actor/co-writer into a star.
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The Judd Apatow formula is so well-known by now that it might as well carry one of those "TM" trademarks. Nerd meets girl, nerd is afraid to get girl or gets girl pregnant, nerd loses girl, nerd obsesses over girl.
The man behind the likes of "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "Knocked Up" and "Superbad" - and the low-rated but still mourned "Freaks and Geeks" TV show a few years back - has got this down to a stone-cold science. The Web site Defamer even has come up with an adjective to describe any film of this type: "Apatowian."
Movies don't get much more Apatowian than "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," produced by Apatow and directed and written by two of his old buds from "Freaks and Geeks," Nicholas Stoller and Jason Segel respectively.
Yet for all of its seeming assembly-line predictability, "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" turns out to be a hilariously subversive take on manhood and romance in the opening years of the 21st century. It also showcases a nervy, unflappable but ultimately sweet performance by Segel that should turn the actor - best known these days as part of TV's "How I Met Your Mother" ensemble - into a star.
Segel plays Peter Bretter, a successful composer who makes his bucks writing the score for a "C.S.I."-like drama that also happens to star his girlfriend, Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). When not working on his music, he's happy to putter around his cluttered L.A. home, wearing sweatpants like a second skin, eating mixing bowls full of breakfast cereal and acting out his inner Gandalf.
But then Sarah breaks up with him, and his perfect world fractures. He slides into an emotional downward spiral of anger, self-loathing, casual sex and "Project Runway" reruns. That is, until brother-in-law Brian (Bill Hader, generally under-used on "Saturday Night Live") suggests that he get out of town.
And what better get-away-from-it-all destination than an isolated Hawaiian resort, a place that Sarah used to talk about? Who knows, it might even allow him time to flesh out this rock-musical project he's thinking about.
Great idea, except that Sarah's there, too, with her new boyfriend, Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), an obnoxious English rock star who makes Oasis' famously egotistical Gallagher brothers look like monks.
So, forgetting Sarah Marshall proves pretty much impossible, despite the best efforts of his new island bros like surf teacher Chuck (Paul Rudd), sad-sack honeymooner Darald (Jack McBrayer, who plays the similarly geeky Kenneth on "30 Rock") and wisecracking bartender Dwayne (Da'Vone McDonald). Even a potential new love interest in the front desk's Rachel Jansen (Mila Kunis) may not be enough to shake him out of his love funk.
"Forgetting Sarah Marshall" could have been just a silly string of male-bonding and misogyny; it certainly doesn't scrimp on the raunchy humor. But it never sinks to low levels, as it's kept buoyant by both Segel's sparkling script and his effervescent performance.
In the end, both Peter and Sarah come across not just as objects of jokes but as good-hearted people who just may or may not be right for each other right now. Apatow's movies generally are tinged with a tender humanism, but here he, Stoller and Segel tiptoe the line between ribald and romance with special skill.
The jokes, which often fly by so quickly that they get lost amid audience laughter, provide the movie's meat and muscle. The sun-drenched Hawaiian setting and the generous use of presumably Hawaiian actors in smaller roles adds a cool sense of place.
But it's Segel's endearingly brave take on Peter - he's in nearly every scene in the near-two-hour movie and never grates or wears out his welcome - that makes "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" such a delirious pleasure.
Steve Carell and Will Ferrell, watch your backs.