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Movie Review: Oublie Sarah Marshall

Review for 'Oublie Sarah Marshall'
Oublie Sarah Marshall
Running Time: 112 min
Release Date: 2008-04-18
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By "Chicago Tribune"

By Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune Movie Critic
3-1/2 stars
Early in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," protagonist Peter Bretter, played by Jason Segel, steps out of the shower as his girlfriend, played by Kristen Bell, arrives back at their apartment. Peter thinks it's carnival time. Sarah, however, has come to call it quits and Peter realizes, in all his mistimed nudity - (BEGIN ITALICS) all (BEGIN ITALICS) his mistimed nudity - that he's getting dumped. They've grown apart, Sarah says: "It's like you're standing on the dock, and I'm in the lake." Peter, now seated on their couch, panics: "I swear to God, I'll jump in the lake! Like a mer-man!"
Resembling a young Lee J. Cobb reborn as a more easygoing comic star, Segel (star of the TV series "How I Met Your Mother") has what Nicolas Cage and Gene Wilder and a precious handful of other witty actors have: the ability to make egregious humiliation and painful neediness a source of limitless mirth. In its chosen Guyville niche, "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" is really, really funny, and too many months have passed since I've been tempted to haul out that second "really" for any film. If the raunch of "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "Knocked Up" or "Superbad" wasn't to your liking, disregard the previous sentence.
The "Virgin"/"Knocked"/"Superbad" trifecta, representing the best of the batch so far produced by Judd Apatow, reflect a similar sensibility and style - they're looser, less formulaic and more detour-friendly than the average Hollywood comedy. The stories are guided by boy-men being dragged, kicking and screaming, into manhood. The difference in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" comes with Segel's character - a composer for television with dreams of writing a "Dracula" puppet musical - being a functioning adult who falls apart, cries, schemes, stalks, endures petty indignation after petty indignation, and must put himself back together again.
Segel wrote the script, and the director is first-timer Nicholas Stoller, who wrote for Apatow's short-lived series "Undeclared." (Segel acted in the series.) The leading role here may be cut from familiar Dear John cloth, but Segel's role works because the writer and the actor understand each other, and fearlessly they dive into all sorts of pathetic misbehavior.
After the breakup, Peter's brother (Bill Hader, in his first wholly effective screen performance) advises our hero-schlub to take a vacation in Hawaii. At a resort staffed by, among others, a very promising front-desk manager played by the vibrant Mila Kunis ("That '70s Show"), Peter runs smack into Sarah and her new beau, a preening British rock god played by Russell Brand. Paul Rudd as the resort's blissfully stoned surfing instructor, Jonah Hill as a star-struck restaurant employee who has a way of rubbing salt in Peter's emotional wounds - the supporting cast blends familiar faces with less familiar ones, and they're all welcome. Kunis really pops out here as well, leaving her manic "That '70s Show" quality behind her.
Here's an indication of Segel's writing skills: Brand's character may be a clown and a cad, but he keeps trying to be Peter's friend, too. Nobody's a cardboard villain in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." It's worth seeing just for the banter between Segel and Hader, which recalls the peak conversational riffs from "Knocked Up." Bell's best scenes show her co-starring with William Baldwin on her "CSI"-inspired series, "Crime Scene," in which every forensic detail and world-weary glare is spot-on.
The film loses some steam in its third act, when Sarah develops second thoughts about her decision. As with all good Apatow comedies, some of the detours end up in a cul-de-sac. But unlike its own bluntly nasty ad campaign, featuring taxi signs and billboards saying snotty things like "You DO look fat in those jeans Sarah Marshall," this story of one man's rebound has a heart to go with its comic nerve.
MPAA rating: R (for sexual content, language and some graphic nudity).
Running time: 1:52.
Starring: Jason Segel (Peter Bretter); Kristen Bell (Sarah Marshall); Mila Kunis (Rachel Jansen); Russell Brand (Aldous Snow); Bill Hader (Brian Bretter); Jonah Hill (Matthew); Paul Rudd (Chuck).
Directed by Nicholas Stoller; written by Jason Segel; photographed by Russ T. Alsobrook; edited by William Kerr; music by Lyle Workman; production design by Jackson De Govia; produced by Judd Apatow and Shauna Robertson. A Universal Pictures release.

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Apr 21, 2008 - Chicago Tribune
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