Smile Politely

Forget Sarah Marshall? That’s Nearly Impossible to Do.

We’ve all been there — going along in a relationship, thinking everything is hunky dory and then all of the sudden your partner lowers the boom on you.

While you’ve been in a state of bliss, they inform you that they’ve been suffering quietly and they need a change, they need to move on, they need to find themselves. They assure you that it’s not you, it’s them — but that doesn’t help when you’re left with a broken heart that will soon change into a festering heap of resentment and hate…or so I’ve heard.

Peter Brettner finds himself in this position in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the latest comedy from the Judd Apatow factory. The brains behind The 40-Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up only serves as producer here, but his fingerprints are all over this. As the film’s biggest laughs, and most poignant moments, come from catching its characters at their most vulnerable. What’s most refreshing is that Apatow alum, Jason Segel finally gets this turn in the spotlight. After having cut his teeth on Freaks and Geeks and looming in the background in Knocked Up, the actor, who also wrote the script, lets it all hang out, physically and emotionally as the heartbroken Brettner, a guy with a big heart whose fatal mistake is that he wears it on his sleeve for the world to trample on.

Of course, it’s easy to see why Brettner is so forlorn. His girlfriend, Sarah (Kristen Bell) is a beautiful TV star and makes him look good whenever he’s holding her purse while she knocks ‘em dead on the red carpet. However, she decides it’s time to trade up, so she dumps him for British pop star Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), a vacuous poser who’s as deep as a puddle in the Sahara. Reeling, Brettner jets to Hawaii to forget his troubles — but as fate would have it, he checks into the same resort where Sarah and Aldous are staying. The only bright spot of the trip seems to be Rachel (Mila Kunis), a hotel clerk who takes pity on the poor schlub and does her best to get him out of his room and involved in the various activities the island holds.

Sure, the premise is contrived, as are most of the films from Apatow’s production company. However, the human truths that emerge from these situations are rich enough to allow the vagaries of the plot. Segel lays himself bare — especially during the agonizing break-up scene in which he starts with nothing but a towel on and ends with far less, both physically and emotionally. While we’re moved by his plight, there’s also a sense of sympathetic humor present as well, as we recognize our own frailties in him and can’t help but be amused at the situations he find himself in. This sense of empathy is what makes Marshall, Virgin and Knocked Up so unique and so successful; they deal with everyday people forced to combat typical emotional turmoil that’s been exaggerated by a comic premise that bears enough of a sense of realism that we can relate to it.

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Another key element to the success of these films is the fine work done by what’s becoming Apatow’s repertory company. Bill Heder and Paul Rudd (Knocked Up) show up as Brettner’s confidant and an addled surf instructor, respectively, and Jonah Hill (Superbad) appears as a musically inclined waiter. Each is given their turn in the spotlight and they make the most of it, giving Brettner solid advice in their own way while reveling in their own idiosyncrasies. Bell shines as well, in a thankless part she makes her own by showing her character’s own vulnerabilities, while Kunis shows she has a softer, more winning side than she ever exposed on That 70’s Show. As for Brand, he’s so outrageously narcissistic that while you initially laugh at his antics, you come to sympathize with his delusions.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall proves to be a movie of great comic riches, so many so that it is hard to list them all here. After all, there’s Jack McBrayer from 30 Rock as a newlywed so addled by his religious beliefs that he cannot satisfy his bride and a puppet show version of Dracula that will have you looking at the Count in an entirely new way. In the end, you wind up thinking that Sarah is a bit of a loser for leaving Peter — because we don’t want to.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall will be at the Virginia Theatre on Tuesday and Thursday (Randolph Street and Park Avenue). The shows start at 7 p.m. Tickets are $2 Tuesday and $3 on Thursday.

Runtime: 1h 51min — Rated R — Comedy/Romance

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