American Cinema Isn't All About Bush Anymore

Maui Time | April 14, 2008
Full-frontal male nudity achieves de rigueur R-rated status in American cinema thanks to the shameless efforts of Judd Apatow's gang of cutting-edge writers and directors that have delivered movies like The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Superbad. It's not exactly telling tales out of school to reveal Sarah Marshall's opening scene wherein one very nude Jason Segal exposes more than just his character's Peter Bretter's heart on his sleeve before being unceremoniously dumped by his girlfriend of the film's title. Sarah (Kristen Bell) is a semi-famous television actress who throws over Peter's affections in favor of a Fabioesque British singer/songwriter called Aldous Snow (Russell Brand). Unromantic and romantic intrigue follow when Peter attempts to escape his broken heart on a trip to Hawaii where Sarah and her cocky boy toy have coincidentally rented a room in the same all-inclusive resort. Jason Segel makes a nearly lovable sadsack who gets some sensual healing from the hotel's lovely concierge Rachel (Mila Kunis). The comedy is at once sophisticated, bawdy, and infused with ridiculous situations derived from screenwriter/actor Jason Segal's checkered romantic past.

At the heart of the volatile satire is the droopy torch that overly sensitive Peter carries for his shallow celebrity ex-girlfriend. Tall and pudgy Peter composes and performs piano music for Sarah's quirky homicide TV show that features kinky sexual aspects to all its victims' deaths. He's a work-at-home guy who relishes eating gargantuan bowls of sugary breakfast cereal in the raw. As we learn via clever flashback sequences, Sarah wore the pants in the relationship. At premiers, paparazzi yell at the out-of-place "boyfriend" to get out of the shot so they can feed on Sarah's white bread beauty like guppies at dinnertime while he's left holding her purse. The experience of dating such a gorehound for attention has left him emasculated with the kind of self-loathing that ad agencies build empires on.

On the flipside of Sarah's not-so-brilliant design for fleeting romance is her dubious choice for Peter's replacement. Aldous Snow is a phony and a stereotypical fame-glutton so in love with himself that he makes Sarah's half-hearted narcissism seem amateurish by comparison. Here's Sarah's role model that taught her how to treat Peter. A lot of comedy derives from seeing Peter come face to face with this double rival whose egotistical attitude Sarah vicariously lords over him.

For as much pain as the cult-of-celebrity has cost Peter, the climate of corporate slackerdom comes to his rescue. Mila Kunis' Rachel couldn't care less about any hotel employee policies about not fraternizing with guests, and her unfocused working class character is an effective foil against the Sarah Marshalls and Aldous Snows of the world. Sarah's visage may have the approval of the masses, but Rachel's outward beauty is reinforced with a generous nonchalance that all but cancels out Sarah's excuses for existence. The filmmakers have fun poking some lesbian subtext into a couple of encounters between Rachel and Sarah. It's this kind of random tension that simmers between the film's guffaw-inducing sex scenes.

Fans of Judd Apatow's comedies will appreciate Paul Rudd's performance as an ageless surfing instructor, and Jonah Hill's fawning role as a gay restaurant maitre 'd with a sideline-recording career. Director Nicholas Stoller makes his directing debut, but the movie belongs to Jason Segel for his audacious script and constant presence as a recovering romantic accoutrement. Forgetting Sarah Marshall is a romantic comedy for guys, but there's plenty of material aimed at female audiences as well, not the least of which are the full-frontal male assaults. We're all friends in Judd Apatow's comedic vision.

Rated R, 112 mins. (B-)

Maui Time

Maui Time Weekly provides insightful analysis and in depth reporting. We believe some issues are so important they require thoughtful consideration. We are not a “paper of record”—a daily journal of government meetings, ribbon-cuttings and corporate announcements. We decide what’s...
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