April 26, 2008

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

It's been a slow spring here at Stub Hubby- we almost went to see Leatherheads, but we never quite pulled the trigger. This weekend, it was a close call between Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Baby Mama, or as my wife put it, "The Judd Apatow chuck flick or the Tina Fey chick flick." Well, she didn't say any of those words, but that captures the gist in a nice pithy catchphrase. Forgetting scored 20% better on Rotten Tomatoes, so we went to see a sweet but underwritten and implausible breakup comedy with the lowest production values of any major studio movie not directed by Kevin Smith I have ever seen...
We saw trailers for a ton of summer movies, and I gotta tell ya, the pickings are slim. Indy 4 has a chance of kicking butt, The Dark Knight is a Batman sequel, a bad portent if you have seen Batman Returns lately, as I have; the new Angelina Jolie movie Wanted looks aggressively simplistic and violent- the effects look stolen from a Matrix sequel, and it's hard to take Mrs. Pitt seriously as an assassin when we all know what a peacenik she is in real life. The second (of seven) Narnia movies looks dull. We both laughed at the trailer for the next Apatow movie, Pineapple Express, especially James Franco, finally in a comedic role after three Spider-Man movies. My wife and I are not stoners or fans of stoner movies, but this one might be worth seeing. My wife made a comparison to the stoner movie Dazed & Confused, and I pointed out that Dazed is the Nineties model ("nothing happens for ninety minutes") whereas in the 21st century, mashing up two genres is the mode. As a result, Express is "Stoner Movie crossed with Midnight Run"?
Which brings us to today's Apatow production, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, a slight and sweet romantic chuck flick written by its star, Jason Segel (How I Met Your Mother). Segel plays Peter Bretter, a underachieving musician who is sweatpant-ing his way through life, coasting in his relationship with an up-and-coming TV actress (Kristen Bell). Sarah dumps Peter for a English musician, a sort of male Amy Winehouse, crossed with a uninhibited sexual prankster. Peter dives into the deep end of the inground pool of sorrow, then escapes for a getaway to Hawaii. INPLAUSABILITY ALERT: Peter goes to the Turtle Bay resort in Hawaii because Sarah suggested it once, and, what a co-inky-dink, she is there, with Mr Winehouse, at the same time as him! Several awkward encounters ensue. Peter falls for a hotel concierge, Rachel, played by the gorgeous Mila Kunis. In my experience, when you're recovering from a breakup, it's easy to fall for women in the service industry, especially hostesses and waitresses, because they're always so nice to you. Peter has the same problem, but it's not played for enough laughs. Dwayne the Bartender makes one joke about it- "you probably think strippers like you too!" -- and that's it.
I have a lot of good will towards Jason Segel. I really like HIMYM, and it's cool that his original screenplay got produced. Plus, he's not movie-star handsome, so he's a cinematic role model for real guys everywhere. Thirdly, he shows his penis twice in this movie, and it's equally funny both times.
Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars) is supposed to be playing a famous TV star who maybe used to love our shlub, but cheats on him for a year with a rock star, then dumps him, then tries to trick him into reconciling with her after she senses her career is in trouble. However, Bell has such a nice-girl image-- or maybe it's just a nice-girl vibe -- that I never really believed that she would do those things. I thought Kirsten Dunst could have pulled it off, and my wife suggested Rachel McAdams, but it's not totally the fault of the casting. The part is a little underwritten. After Sarah discovers that her unchallenging and profitable TV job is over, she is scared that her career might be over. She pours her heart out to Peter, and this was the point in the movie where we could have seen a little more of character, and a justification for her terrible behavior. There simply isn't enough there to have her cheating and manipulative behavior make sense.
Mila Kunis is beautiful in this movie, and she is obviously more talented than I ever saw on That 70s Show, but she wasn't up to some of the heavy lifting in this movie. After their first not-really-a-date, Peter tries to kiss Rachel before he leaves, and she pulls back. "I don't want to complicate things", she explains. After Peter turns and walks away, he rolls his eyes, and gives us a obvious "I feel so stupid" look. We cut to the car again, and before Rachel drives away, we see her alone for a second, and I have absolutely no idea what emotion she was trying to convey- did she regret turning away Peter? Was she surprised at her own attraction to him? Was she disappointed? Surprised? Sleepy? I couldn't tell. Perhaps this was a lapse in direction, because later in the film, Rachel is on the verge of tears, and sends Peter away, I thought she was wonderful.
Russell Brand plays English rocker Aldous Snow, and he's fantastic: mellow and friendly, but totally self-absorbed, full of ridiculous spiritual bulls***, and completely sexually unrestrained. I have no idea who this actor is, but he was a refreshing new face.
Basically, this movie only got made because:
  • Jason Segel is friends with Judd Apatow, who, like John Hughes twenty years ago, can write his own ticket;
  • Apatow agreed to produce this movie on a shoestring budget.
The result is a sweet but underwritten and implausible breakup comedy with the lowest production values of any major studio movie not directed by Kevin Smith I have ever seen. The movie was apparently shot in Hawaii, because half of the time it looks like Hawaii, and the rest of the time it looks like it was shot on a soundstage with a canvas backdrop. Plenty of movies shot outdoors use a giant translucent "scrim" which is flown above the actors heads, to cut down the glare and harsh shadows on the actors' faces. When used properly, it keeps the actors from squinting and simulates the kind of light you would get on a mildly hazy day. Unfortunately, when two characters are talking on a cliff face, and the scrim disappears every time the angle changes....you kinda get "pulled out of the movie". Scrim. No Scrim. Scrim. No Scrim. My wife noticed the boom mike entering the shot on several occasions too. I was also totally distracted by inconsistent hairstyling- I don't think this has ever happened to me before! (Church Street Harvard Square)