Thursday, October 23, 2008

MOVIES- Sarah Marshall, Dewey Cox, and Judd Apatow

Well, I found FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL in my mailbox last week and gave it a spin during the weekend. I was pleasantly surprised. It’s a Judd Apatow produced comedy, starring Apatow alumnus Jason Segel (who you may know as Marshall from the sitcom “How I Fucked Your Mother”) and sporting the modest tagline: From the guys who brought you "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up". Due to the success of these two films, Apatow and his posse have been hailed by many critics as comedic geniuses. And while the movies are amusing, this says more about the state of comedy in film than it does about the films themselves. Here the characters seem a little more mature and there aren’t any drug references so this film is noticeably different than the usual Apatow fare.

Segel wrote the film as well as starring in it. The plot is the essence of sitcom high-concept- What if you went to Hawaii to get over a breakup and wound up in the same hotel as your ex and her new boyfriend? What surprises is that the characters nominally act like grown-ups and the dialog is clever and understated. There’s only one scene where somebody winds up hanging from something and it isn’t their ex’s balcony so it’s forgivable. It’s easy to see what a mess this would have been in the hands of cartoon comedians like Ben Stiller or Will Ferrell. But here Segel plays Peter Bretter OH MY GOD THAT’S HIS PENIS the way only a writer writing autobiographically THERE IT IS AGAIN can manage to and the commentary tract HOLY CRAP THERE IT IS AGAIN THIS IS RIDICULOUS confirms that almost every scene in the movie OH COME ON BUDDY JUST PUT THAT THING AWAY had happened to him at one time or another. Kristin Bell and Mila Kunis are lovely and perky and get a few good lines. But Russell Brand steals the show as Aldous Snow, the rock-star new boyfriend. This is a character you’re supposed to hate. He’s shallow, narcissistic, and we find out halfway through the movie that he was sleeping with the hero’s girlfriend for a year before the breakup. But the role is written so that he’s actually a pretty decent guy and Brand’s performance is so charming while at the same time being so completely bizarre that you wind up not applying any of the rules of human decency to this guy. He looks like he’s only a millimeter deep, but there’s more there than you expected. The whole movie is like that, the payoff is so much more than the set-up would make you think is coming.

Of the Judd Apatow produced comedies in the last couple of years, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is the best of the lot. The dialog is funnier and the situations are easier to relate to than being a middle-aged virgin or knocking up the girl of your dreams and having her want to stay with you because of it. If you can stand to see gratuitous full frontal male nudity, give it a try.

The same weekend as Forgetting Sarah Marshall, I saw WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY. Earlier I mentioned the mess FSM would have been with Will Ferrell involved. This movie proves the point. It’s basically the type of movie Ferrell has been doing for forever- the faux biopic. In the hands of Ferrell and SNL allumnus Alan McKay I’m sure this would have just been another Talladega Nights. That’s what I expected. But once again Judd Apatow and his FREEKS AND GEEKS cohort Jake Kasdan take a tired premise and put a fresh spin on it with good writing. Now, don’t get me wrong. Walk Hard is a collection of every cliché from every musical biopic you’ve ever seen. But that’s what makes it fun. It’s EVERY Cliché. All of them. From the troubled childhood, to the drug problems, to the infidelity, to the inevitable comeback tour. And to look at the movie with the sound turned down you’d think it was all done straight. John C. Reilly never raises an eyebrow to let the audience know he’s in on the joke. And that’s what makes it so funny. The movie is silly but never at it’s own expense and while it goes right up to the line it never goes over the top. It’s not a comedy classic, but if you are tired of comedy movies that are nothing more than Saturday Night Live skits padded out to two hours and don’t think yelling is funny for it’s own sake, you’ll probably find yourself being amused.

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