Saturday, May 24, 2008

Movies: Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Even my pal who thought he'd slit his wrists in the tub whilst listening to the Smiths if he were forced to watch this movie found it to be a surprising delight. Neither of us much enjoyed any of the other Judd Apatow films to date (Superbad, Knocked Up, and The 40 Year Old Virgin), but based almost entirely on a rather brilliant ad campaign (My mom always hated you Sarah Marshall!) I insisted that we see it. (I made a bargain; he got the better deal).

Everything about this movie was better than those other Apatow warm-Budweiser-in-a-can movies. It's no microbrew, and not even a Guinness, but it's definitely Brooklyn Brown in a frosty bottle-quality pleasure. My elbow, already an active jabber during most movies, basically never stopped sticking my poor pal's probably now-bruised ribcage. We laughed, loudly, again and again. The ultimate explanation for such comedic success, I think, was the lighter use of irony than in previous Apatow efforts, and the integration of farce/spoof/etc. with an actual plot and actual emotions (rather than the 100% farce of The 40 Year Old Virgin and the 98% spoof of Superbad). The spoof spots (Sarah Marshall and Billy Baldwin in a hyper-sexed CSI-ish Crime Scene, the innuendo-ridden lyrics of pop-ballad-rocker Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) (the man for whom Sarah dumps protagonist Peter Bretter (writer/actor Jason Segel, who is to thank for the film's wit)), and the E!-like specials featuring Peter standing on the red carpet, awkwardly holding a variety of tiny jeweled handbags while Sarah poses for photographers' seizure-inducing flashbulbs) are hilarious, disturbingly on-point, and laced with just enough discomfort to appeal to the more intelligent in the audience. And while Sarah is the typical ironed-hair blonde with bonded teeth and seamless spray-on tan, who eats up such things, Peter is writing a rock opera about Dracula to be performed by puppets. I am not ashamed to say that sounds far more appealing, although I'm not certain whether the film's target market would agree.

Peter ultimately finds the potential for another relationship with prettier-than-Sarah-Marshall Rachel, the aimless, scratchy-voiced, unbearably sexy hotel clerk who dropped out of college to follow a surfer boy to Hawaii (where most of this movie takes place, by the way). She's no more intellectual than Sarah, to be honest (Apatow and his cohorts never did have much faith in the minds of women, though to be honest, I don't either, considering what I see on the streets every day and hear in the bars every night), but she is more confident, more salt-of-the-earth, more "real," more kind, and, oh yeah, more sexy. And he puts on his rock opera, with her encouragement. And it's great. And life is great. For Peter.

Sarah's show ends up getting cancelled, and her relationship with Aldous ends up similarly canned. And so, a great opportunity for multi-layered schadenfreude arises as she tearfully tries to get Peter back, in the only way she knows how (that is sexually, until he can't perform for her). And so, the triumph of substantive, if sometimes awkward, and even at times slovenly, nerds (for Peter is much more than the "sensitive frat boy" my pal was afraid he would be). Sarah manages to score one fair point against him (demonstrating that, like most women do with most men, she tried desperately for quite some time to improve him (getting him to wear something other than sweat pants once in a while) before first cheating on him with and then dumping him for someone who took better care of his body and appearance). And yet, we women are again faced with the terrible choices we find in real life: the quality schlub, or the sexy asshole.

Speaking of the sexy asshole, I need to take a moment now to give a serious shout out to Russell Brand as Aldous Snow. I can't imagine his not being given a movie of his own. You hate to love him, but you can't stop yourself. He is brilliant. He is a perfectly nuanced manifestation of the cliched man-that-women-want; he is campy, but still raw; he is an cheating, lying, whoring bastard with no regard for women as more than sexual chattel, but he feels real jealousy when he notices Sarah re-noticing Peter. Brand writhes, scowls, and croons with exaggerated precision. While you are guaranteed to find a soft spot inside for every character in this movie, the softest one will be for him.

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