Fresh off the success of summer blockbusters “Knocked Up” (2007) and “Superbad” (2007) comes the latest Judd Apatow-produced comedy, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” Filled with familiar characters, gags and delivery, Apatow’s latest once again manages to leave the audience in tears of laughter.
It should not be assumed that this sort of name-brand comedy is new. We’ve been laughing at Will Ferrell’s oblivious dope for years, and before that Adam Sandler and his band of misfits cracked us up to no end. Yet Apatow’s bunch stands out from the previous kings of comedy. As anyone can tell, they’re not putting on too much of an act in their films. The fact that they’re the kind of guys and gals that viewers would actually want to know is just icing on the cake.
This latest venture centers on lovable loser Peter (played by Jason Segel of “How I Met Your Mother”) who is dumped by his TV-star girlfriend Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell of “Veronica Mars”). Peter sets out for Hawaii to get over his ex, but hilarity and a little over-the-top awkwardness ensue when Marshall and her new rock-star boyfriend check into the same hotel. The awkwardness heats up even further when Peter meets a new girl of his dreams, the girl at the front desk played by Mila Kunis of “That ’70s Show.”
True to the foundations of the writer, director and most of the cast, the movie plays out much like a sitcom. We even get various story arcs and special guests, including “Saturday Night Live’s” Bill Hader, “Superbad’s” Jonah Hill and “Knocked Up’s” Paul Rudd. Segel, who also wrote the script, pokes fun at his television roots by featuring excerpts from Marshall’s “CSI”-like TV show and flashbacks reminiscent of those used in his own sitcom. Those actors who aren’t regulars on the Apatow scene are still highly recognizable to cult TV fans, from “30 Rock’s” Jack McBrayer to a cameo by “Arrested Development’s” Jason Bateman (if one sticks around for the end credits, that is). This setup works to frame the film in a series of very accessible in-jokes, further building on the actors’ camaraderie with their audience.
Obviously, there’s a drawback to the strong typecasting of most of the players. As each small-screen celeb makes his or her first appearance, it’s easy to get distracted in a certain sort of thought process of trying to remember where one has seen that actor. While “Sarah Marshall” does a pretty good job of making its characters more than cookie-cutter versions of every other role each actor has played, it’s tough to give any of them a blank slate.
Yet this repetition is easy to forgive in light of the many funny one-liners, pratfalls and moments of situational comedy. It’s no wonder Segel finally gained household recognition as the affable man-child, as he plays it exceptionally well. Under different circumstances, the guy who writes a Dracula-inspired puppet rock opera that sounds like “gothic Neil Diamond” could never be a believable romantic lead. But even Peter’s penchant for wearing sweatpants for a week at a time can’t dissuade ladies from loving him and men from admiring his sappy determination. (It’s definitely hard to say the same thing, though, once Segel’s pants come off – which they do, many times.)
While “Sarah Marshall” doesn’t quite pack the punch of its Apatowian predecessors, it’s still a light and entertaining 112 minutes with some of the best cinematic friends in the business. This isn’t an offer that comes around very often, so what better way to spend an evening than by relaxing in the island breeze with Peter and the gang? Don’t forget your Hawaiian shirt.