It is worth remembering that, long before the Judd Apatow comedic reign began, the Farrelly Brothers were once the toast of Tinseltown, working in scatology the way some artists work with watercolors.
After defining (and influencing) film comedy for the decade of the 1990s with Dumb and Dumber, Me, Myself & Irene and There's Something About Mary, the Farrellys began to wane the minute they forgot how to balance "shock and guffaw" with an undercurrent of sentimentality. Consequently, the directors of Kingpin began rolling one gutter ball after another.
This was the fate waiting to befall the House of Apatow due to brand oversaturation and its last three entrées: Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (which I liked, but apparently the movie-going public did not), Superbad (which most fans and critics liked, but I didn't) and last month's Drillbit Taylor (which no one liked). So, the rapid-fire follow-up of Forgetting Sarah Marshall bears all the earmarks of yet another stab at recapturing fading glory.
Instead, Forgetting Sarah Marshall has perhaps already earned the distinction of the funniest movie of the year. The film acts as the third leg of Apatow's unofficial relationship trilogy: The 40-Year-Old Virgin undressed the ethos of adult sexuality, Knocked Up explored the travails of parenthood and, to a lesser degree, marriage, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall is, well, all about the breakup.
Specifically, it begins with the split between the titular famous actress (Kristen Bell) and her schlub of a boyfriend, Peter (Jason Segel). Sarah stars alongside Billy Baldwin in Crime Scene, a cheesy TV crime show for which Peter composes the background music. Wallowing in self-pity, Peter jets off for a solo Hawaiian convalescence, unaware that Sarah and her new beau—a Euro-pop lothario named Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), leader of a band called Infant Sorrow—are staying at the same island resort.
What sets apart Forgetting Sarah Marshall is not merely the wit of a screenplay written by Segel, but also the effortless way it stirs together a gumbo of shocking visual gags, romance and pop-culture touchstones—few films could effectively (and hilariously) reference The Lord of the Rings, the JFK assassination and Flavor of Love.
Moreover, whereas the Farrelly Brothers' rim shots involved testicles snagged in zippers, Apatow's payoffs are more—dare I say—meaningful. A scene in which Peter's erectile difficulty acts as coitus interruptus with Sarah is grounded in an uncomfortable truth to which many couples can uncomfortably relate. Peter's dream of composing a puppet rock opera about Dracula is plainly played for laughs, but it is also framed as Peter's particularized version of the latent, sometimes harebrained ambitions everyone secretly harbors.
I defy any red-blooded guy to watch this film without being utterly captivated by Mila Kunis (That '70s Show), who is a revelation as the fetching Rachel, the hotel's desk clerk and a mainland expatriate. There's definitely something about Rachel, and her dalliance with Peter under Sarah's nose lends the storyline an added dimension of sexual politics—not to mention a credible love interest.
Meanwhile, the regular cadre of Apatow faves, including Jonah Hill, Bill Hader and Paul Rudd, round out a terrific supporting cast that is given plenty of screen time but is never permitted to steal the show. That said, Jack McBrayer (30 Rock) walks away with plenty of scenes as a virgin newlywed whose wife's wildcat bedroom propensities frighten his religious sensibilities. And, as a stoner surf instructor, Rudd reels off my new favorite mantra: "When life gives you lemons, just say 'Fuck the lemons' and bail."
However, the real star is Segel, a Freaks and Geeks grad now starring in the TV series How I Met Your Mother. Segel bares all—physically and emotionally—and turns in a deceptively versatile performance that binds the film together, even through its somewhat draggy second half. Even if the specter of a dopey Everydude dating a famous celebrity, getting comped the penthouse suite at a Hawaiian hotel and then scoring the prettiest girl at the resort is more incredible than Knocked Up's Seth Rogen impregnating a gorgeous E! television reporter, we somehow buy into the tableau. It's all part of the Apatow era—enjoy it while you can. —Neil Morris
Forgetting Sarah Marshall opens Friday throughout the Triangle.
Hollywood family dramas often seem to be about people unable to get along even while living under the same roof. Under the Same Moon shows families separated not by psychological distance, but by hundreds of agonizing miles.
We meet plucky 9-year-old Carlitos (Adrian Alonzo from The Legend of Zorro), who lives with his grandmother in Mexico. He bitterly misses his mother, Rosario (Kate del Castillo), who works illegally in the United States. After his grandmother's death, and fearing his fate with relatives greedy for the cash his mother sends him, Carlitos impulsively packs up and allows a nervous young American couple to smuggle him across the border. There are kind people along the way, but also the depraved, and after a scrape or two, he falls in with Enrique (Eugenio Derbez, a famous Mexican actor and comedian), a surly loner with untapped reserves of tenderness.
"Nobody lives this way unless they have a good reason," Enrique lectures Carlitos, and the tenuous existence of Latino immigrants is illustrated with the petty degradations, exploitative workplaces and the fear of la migra (immigration authorities).
Director Patricia Riggen treats this melodrama with a gentle touch, and largely avoids stereotypes. One of Rosario's employers is kind (although we are treated to yet another scene of a caregiver aching for her own child while tucking in a stranger's), and not every Spanish-speaking person is an angel. Rosario worries that her son will learn only anger due to their separation, and during the course of the film, as one disappointment leads to another, Carlitos' contained emotions begin to spill over.
America Ferrera makes what is little more than a cameo, certainly raising the film's profile among English-speaking audiences; in fact, I saw trailers for this film in both English and Spanish, and both highlighted the Ugly Betty star's appearance in a film made before the breakout success of her Emmy-winning TV show.
Under the Same Moon was No. 14 on the domestic box office list last week, and inched up to No. 12 this week. Ferrera's slight involvement with the project can't explain the film's success. Instead, it speaks eloquently to an increasing segment of the American population: Stress, disappointment and occasional joys of life appear, but without the downbeat gloom of art film "realism." —Laura Boyes
Under the Same Moon is now playing in select theaters.