(2008)3.5Perry SeibertStories about young men unable to get over the girl who left them are as old as movies themselves. What sets Forgetting Sarah Marshall apart from the pack are the flesh and blood characters. For a first-time screenwriter, Jason Segel aptly demonstrates a deep understanding of a cardinal rule in writing that everybody is flawed -- capturing this in both his script and in his performance as the severely heartbroken Peter. The movie expertly plays with stereotypes about aw-shucks good guys, horny superstars, and seemingly perfect new lovers, but it also pushes deeper into where those clichés come from. A savvy observer of human behavior, Segel treats his characters with empathy and compassion. He distills why specific romantic relationships happen, why they go on too long, and why they sometimes don't happen when they should. Had he wanted to dig a few layers deeper, Segel could have crafted a serious story about the inability of twentysomethings to commit -- the evidence suggests if he wants to try he might have a great drama in him. Thankfully, he has just as much skill as a gag writer, allowing him to wring more laughs than tears out of the pain.
All the performers give memorable comedic turns. From Jonah Hill's starstruck resort employee to Bill Hader's supportive stepbrother to Jack McBrayer's sexually frustrated newlywed, everyone in the supporting cast gets at least one scene to really shine. The leads impress as well: Mila Kunis shows no traces at all of her dumb rich girl from That '70s Show. She is more than up to the challenge of playing her character's strengths, while hinting at the fear that keeps her from leaving the island paradise she has made her home. Kristen Bell captures every detail of the insecure actress Sarah Marshall, but finds quirks to make her much more than a cardboard cutout. You can see, beyond her fame and her looks, why Peter loved her. And Russell Brand delivers a breakout performance as a sexually voracious rock star who would be detestable if he weren't so happy to share his encyclopedic knowledge of all things carnal with anyone who needs it.
As promising as these young faces are, this winning comedy is, above all, the launching pad for Jason Segel. As a writer he shows incredible skill for character development and as an actor he seems quite fearless. He plays the infamous opening break-up scene with a torrent of blubbering emotion -- not to mention the most male nudity in a comedy since Walk Hard. Segel seems unafraid of the truth no matter how embarrassing or painful -- this is both the mark of an artist and what makes Forgetting Sarah Marshall his coming-out party.