‘Sarah Marshall’ a comedic escape

David Hohwald

Judd Apatow’s Midas’ touch for comedies is impossible to miss at the moment.

Since “Anchorman” and “The 40 Year Old Virgin,” every film he has made, either directing or producing, has met with some degree of success.

Here he hands the reigns to freshman director Nicholas Stoller, but the film is written by Jason Segel, the male lead and star of Apatow’s debut TV show “Freaks and Geeks.”

Based around the simple premise of a man getting dumped by his cheating girlfriend only to run into her on his much-needed vacation, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” manages to pack a good amount of comedy into an interesting story, but ultimately fails to live up to previous Apatow success stories.

Segel, as the writer/actor, deserves plenty of credit for his first screenplay.

Comedies live or die on the number of laughs they garner from the audience, and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” has plenty.

The dialogue is on point and manages to do a lot for character development, especially for Segel’s main character Peter Bretter.

Still, his finely tuned personification of nearly everyone in the film engrosses the viewer and creates some real pathos, which can be a rarity.

At the same time the script has a few notable flaws that seem to come from Segel’s inexperience.

He tends to throw in a few too many characters at points, using a bunch of big names on screen at once and hoping something sticks.

It works at times, but the imprecise nature leaves the movie feeling unbalanced, going from comedic feast to famine.

Segel tries to compensate at times with gross-out humor, with varying degrees of success.

The film is also about 10 minutes too long and gets bogged down during the second act.

Stoller seems to suffer the same problems with his direction.

His approach seems almost lackadaisical, which at times works wonders, but on the whole could have been better.

By allowing every actor a wide degree of freedom, several people manage to stand out, but a few others simply wear out their welcome with some pretty unrefined performances.

The odd thing is that Stoller manages to get some of the best laughs and performances when he did more rather than less.

It is not a deal-breaker at all, but the potential for some even better scenes and performances is visible at times.

As for the actors, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” is a veritable cavalcade of big-time comedic actors.

Segel is fantastic as Bretter, and his performance really brings some depth to a character who could have been quite one-dimensional.

Kristen Bell is not as great as Sarah Marshall.

She never really gets a chance to shine and is more an ancillary character than anything else. Bell does what is asked of her but nothing more.

Fortunately there is a bevy of supporting performances, many of which are enjoyable.

Arguably the least recognizable actor of the bunch, Russell Brand gives a fantastically nuanced delivery of Aldous Snow, the sensual rock star for whom Sarah leaves Peter.

He is silly at times, but the way he transitions between screwball comedy and great dialogue timing is a sight to see.

Mila Kunis is also solid as the receptionist, Rachel Jansen.

The other supporting characters include a decent, if a little flat, Paul Rudd; a vaguely disappointing Jonah Hill; and a great Jack McBrayer, who basically reprises his role from “30 Rock” in the film.

Best of all is the bit performance by Billy Baldwin, whose every line manages to be hysterical.

The editing is where “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” suffers a bit.

The movie does not do a great job at transitioning between scenes sometimes, which can be distracting and disengaging. Also, as mentioned before, characters are overused, resulting in a saturation that can seem desperate at times.

Those looking for a fun, enjoyable comedy will certainly find one in Apatow’s latest project.

While not as deep or finely tuned as some of his other productions, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” delivers some serious laughs with fleshed-out characters and a solid plot.

The cast features someone for everyone, as does the comedic styling, though the overall film does at times disappoint.

It may not be perfect, but Stoller’s directorial debut is worth seeing for those looking to laugh and spend time with some interesting people.