Uncomfortable comedy

Dude, that Spam isn’t sitting very well with me, either.

Dude, that Spam isn’t sitting very well with me, either.

Rated 4.0

The Judd Apatow comedy train has hit a few bumps in recent times. After last year’s Apatow-produced and excellent Superbad and Knocked Up, we’ve gotten mediocre fare like Walk Hard and the just-north-of-horseshit Drillbit Taylor.

Jason Segel, a hilarious bit player in Knocked Up and currently on TV’s How I Met Your Mother, gets the limelight with Forgetting Sarah Marshall, a comedy that, while not as consistent as some of Apatow’s classic efforts, certainly belongs in their class. Thanks to stellar comedic efforts from Segel and a cast of Apatow regulars, including Jonah Hill, Paul Rudd and Bill Hader, laughs are consistent, often original, and laced with nasty doses of reality.

Peter Bretter (Segel) likes life well enough. His girlfriend Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell) is the hot star of a CSI-type TV show (costarring Billy Baldwin!), and he does the soundtrack music for it. He lounges about the house, eating large basins of Fruit Loops, watching TV and waiting for his love to come home. He breaks away on occasion to actually write music, including a Dracula musical (with puppets!) that he hopes to produce someday.

Sarah dumps Peter, in a funny scene featuring a detailed study of male anatomy, and Peter is obliterated. He and brother Brian (the eternally funny Bill Hader) head out to the clubs, where Peter thinks casual sex might snap him out of his funk. That plan fails hilariously, and Peter sets his sights on a system-flushing happy trip to Hawaii.

Small problem with the system-flushing happy trip: Sarah is staying at the same resort as Peter, and she’s there with her new beau, British pop star Aldous Snow (a scene-stealing Russell Brand).

It’s a nightmare, and first-time director Nicholas Stoller has a deft touch with comedy of the uncomfortable. Segel, who, by the way, also wrote the movie, has come up with scene after scene of horrific break-up situations. What makes them so funny and real is that every one of the characters has major flaws as well as endearing qualities. Rather than making Sarah and Aldous hateful and repugnant, Bell and Brand are given the chance to make them somewhat sympathetic and, in the case of Aldous, blissfully outrageous.

Poking fun at her own TV stardom, this film should help establish Bell as a legitimate movie star. This character has “bitch” written all over it, yet Bell makes Sarah somebody you can relate to, a person that has made some mistakes and doesn’t enjoy the collateral damage those mistakes have caused. She’s also pretty damned good with the funny stuff. Bell is hereby forgiven for Pulse. Well, maybe not totally forgiven. That film left scars on my brain … large, skull-cramping scars.

As Peter’s new love interest, resort employee Rachel (Mila Kunis, formerly of That 70’s Show) proves she has some comedic chops as well. She portrays Rachel as a laid-back sort who can flip on her psycho switch when she thinks it’s necessary. I’ve never been impressed with Kunis before, but she’s great in this movie.

Hill is good as a resort worker who has a serious man-crush on Aldous Snow, giving him demo CDs and trying to touch his face. Rudd has little screen time, but he’s funny as a forgetful surf instructor who likes weed. Hader is simply one of the great new comedic faces on the scene today. And keep an eye on Brand, whose lampooning of pop stars is some of the best rock boy spoofing since Spinal Tap.

All said, this is Segel’s movie. Apatow has done a nice job giving the likes of Segel and Seth Rogen (both formally of the Apatow-produced TV show Freaks and Geeks) great roles to chew on. It’s been reported Segel is writing the next Muppet movie. Given what he does here with a Dracula puppet, that’s good news.