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Frozen II (2019)

While it’s become somewhat fashionable to call Frozen overrated, I still think it’s a great movie with an even better soundtrack, songs that I can instantly think of and hear them immediately in my head. I figured Disney would be very careful about a Frozen sequel out of a tactic understanding that they didn’t want to damage their brand. It was six years ago so I figured they hatched a sequel worthy of the big screen and legacy of their billion-dollar hit, but what I received with Frozen II was more akin to a direct-to-DVD sequel that is meant to jump start an afternoon cartoon series called Elsa’s Magical Friends. Prepare for mediocrity, folks, and start dialing back those expectations. The story revolves around Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel) discovering her past, traveling to a magical land, meeting magical tribes of creatures, and helping to unite a divided people. The sloppiness of the storytelling is staggering. The plot is filled with exposition and the world building is clunky and unclear, designed more to move things along and set up cute creatures ready for holiday merchandise. The characters arcs are nebulous, in the case of Elsa considering she’s never longed to discover a past, and resoundingly lightweight in the case of everyone else; Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) is worried about having the perfect proposal (yawn), and Anna (Kristen Bell) wants to support her sister but also doesn’t want her to march off into danger needlessly (yeah, and…?). Olaf (Josh Gad), the magic snowman, remarks about the nature of change, but by the very end of the movie nothing has really changed, and that’s even after a gigantic potential sacrifice that Anna makes by her lonesome. I felt some emotional pull for the characters but that was because of the holdover of my feelings for them and less because of the situations they found themselves in with this sequel. And let’s get to the songs, which are shockingly forgettable. I was forgetting them even in the middle of them being performed. There’s no “Let It Go,” but there’s also nothing as low as the troll song, but what we’re left with are milquetoast ballads and tunes low on hum-worthy melodies. The best song might actually be a jokey power ballad along the lines of Bryan Adams where Kristoff sings his woes. That’s right, a Kristoff song is maybe the best track in this movie. That feels like a pretty big indication something went wrong. It felt like the kind of quality you’d expect from a direct-to-DVD sequel’s array of new songs. Frozen II feels so bizarrely perfunctory and routine, absent a cohesive theme holding everything together and providing a firm landscape to direct the characters, and going through the motions. It’s not a story that adds greater depth to this world. If you’re expecting something along the lines of quality from the first Frozen, it’s better to simply let those feelings go. And what’s the deal with Elsa’s neck on the poster? It’s far far too long.

Nate’s Grade: B-

Veronica Mars (2014)

rs_634x945-140110122132-634.veronica-mars.cm.11013More people know the name Veronica Mars now than probably combined from its short-run on TV from 2004-2007, and that’s squarely because of its record-breaking haul brought in through the fundraising site, Kickstarter. Within hours, the project had already raised two million dollars, on its way to over five and a half million, enough for a long-awaited movie that fans have been teased with ever since the series cancellation. Creator Rob Thomas and his actors were beside themselves in gratitude to their fans (dubbed “marshmallows”). Fueled by the eager hopes of its fans, the movie went into production and is now available for digital download to many of its donors and in a handful of theaters.

Veronica Mars (Kristen Bell) has left behind her hometown of Neptune, California. She’s on the verge of signing with a major New York law firm, and an old friend comes calling. Veronica’s former flame, Logan (Jason Dohring), has recently lost his pop star girlfriend, also a Neptune graduate. He’s suspected of being the killer but he swears his innocence. With the promise of her assistance only lasting a few days, she flies back home and reunited with her old friends (Mac, Wallace, Weevil, Dick) and her father, private investigator Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni). Veronica should go back to New York with her boyfriend Stosh “Piz” Piznarski (Chris Lowell), she should accept the job offer from the firm, but she can’t help herself fall back into old patterns. She misses the danger, the intrigue, and maybe enough, Logan himself.

VERONICA MARSThe curious case of Veronica Mars: The Movie is that it was truly made for the fans, those 90,000 people who contributed to their Kickstarter goal. It’s not made for the casual moviegoer who has no foundation with the television series. That’s not to say that Thomas doesn’t try and make the film more inclusive. The neophyte could reasonably follow along, and there is a fast-paced prologue to catch the audience up on the major developments of the series, though almost all from season one. A non-fan could watch this movie but I have no idea what they would get out of it because they would be missing all the connections and context that provide the depth. In a way, this situation reminds me of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. Unless you were a fan of Lynch’s iconic thought short-lived TV series, there was no way you were going to follow along or be interesting in following along. It was a movie made for its fan base, and there’s nothing wrong with that though it always helps to provide enough entertainment to prove to the newbies why they should be fans in the first place. I don’t think the Veronica Mars film is able to achieve this. Sure, I enjoyed myself but that was because of my pre-existing fan club and my years-in-the-making desire to finally see proper closure to the characters I came to care about. I feel like someone without that devotion would watch the 105 minutes of Veronica Mars and question what all the fuss was about.

That’s because at feature-length, Veronica Mars is really more of an extended episode of the TV show, and not one of the top tier episodes. As a debut film director, Thomas does a serviceable job of recreating the series noir visuals. The mystery is sufficient if a little dull, lacking a strong sense of urgency throughout most since Logan is already walking around free of charges. The real anchor of the story is bringing Veronica back to Neptune and bringing her back into the family business. The class injustice was a hallmark of the TV series but it’s merely one more slightly malnourished storyline cluttering up the narrative. There are no real reasons to check in on so many characters beyond the fact that it provides resolution for fans. A ten-year high school reunion seems engineered just for this purpose, allowing the new old faces to all reappear again and catch us up. There are characters that appear in near-cameo form (though the surprise celebrity cameo is quite amusing). Even the romance feels mostly grafted onto the story because the core audience demands Veronica and Logan reunite, in all senses. It just becomes a matter of time waiting for the inevitable, as it is with all romantic comedies, except the romance is sidelined here until it isn’t. As a film, it doesn’t feel organically handled that Veronica would leap back into Logan’s arms, and so soon, unless, of course, you are one of those fans (I know MANY) who have been waiting seven years for that moment. Fan service is one thing but it shouldn’t detract from the internal logic of the featured story.

vm3What does still work are all the hallmarks of the TV show, even if they are less effectively showcased for first-timers. The plucky, sarcastic nature of Veronica still turns her into a heroine worth rooting for, a force of will that has her flaws as well. Bell (Frozen, TV’s House of Lies) can just about do it all, from goofy to heartfelt to ferocious. It’s clear how much she adores this character she helped bring to life ten years ago. The father/daughter relationship is warmly affectionate without dipping into sappy territory. The dialogue is still snappy, though having late twenty-somethings saying it rather than high schoolers has dulled some of the edge. There’s also the sleazy addition of older men hitting on Veronica now that she’s officially out of high school, so hooray. The season-long mysteries of the series, while satisfying and twisty, were secondary to the characters, and watching the overall jovial camaraderie of the cast, is a reminder at how much fans adore these people.

I can objectively critique the faults in the film, as I’ve tried to do for a couple paragraphs, but this is a movie where I set aside my critic hat and merge with the fans. I too contributed to the Kickstarter because I’ve been dying for a sense of closure for one of the best TV shows in the mid-aughts. The finale of season three left much of the show in doubt; Thomas was not counting on cancellation. While fan fiction can run rampant in these circumstances in order to cater to fan demands, it doesn’t compare to the creator being given a reprieve to tie up as many loose ends as possible. That’s the greatest accomplishment of the Veronica Mars movie is that it feels like a genuinely satisfying sense of closure for the fans. While not every storyline is wrapped up, like for instance Weevil’s path, it ends on a point where you can reasonably guess where the characters would continue from here onward if we were never to check in with them again. This is a good resting place. But given the runaway success of the Kickstarter campaign, maybe Warner Brothers could be convinced there are more stories to be told here. I’m cautiously optimistic but really Thomas has already given the fans just about everything they could want, unless they were the Veronica/”Piz” minority of shippers.

Whatever you think of the final product, Veronica Mars: The Movie has changed the way movies can get financed. Smaller boutique films with a passionate fanbase can now get the ball rolling, putting their money into a down payment on seeing their dream movie becomes a reality, convincing studio heads to roll the dice with less risk. I invite all newcomers to watch the series, since that is where it was best. As a film, it’s enjoyable enough and satisfying for the fervent fans, supplying needed closure. However, for people that don’t already have connections to these characters and this world, I don’t think there’s enough going on in the movie to attract a larger discipleship.

Nate’s Grade: B

Frozen (2013)

FROZN_014M_G_ENG-GB_70x100.inddEnough time has passed that a revival of the 1990s Broadway formula that Disney stuck so aggressively to for so long is actually a welcome treat, especially when Frozen is this good of a movie. An extremely loose retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen, we follow two sisters and princesses, one of whom, Elsa, is gifted with magic powers controlling ice. She’s lived a life of solitude out of fear and penance for endangering her sister when they were kids. Ana has no idea, having her memory wiped through magic, and so she desperately wonders why big sis gives her the cold shoulder. After another accident, Elsa lets her powers loose, refusing to try and fit into the confines of society no longer. Ana is the only one who can save her and the town. Did you read any mention of a man in that plot breakdown? While there are significant male characters, including romantic suitors, Frozen is the story of a different kind of love, a familial love between sisters. It also generously pokes fun at Disney’s admittedly spotty record of heroines giving up their dreams for the first man they meet. Even the comedic side characters work wonderfully. Josh Gad (Jobs) as a magic snowman had me cracking up throughout with his dopey line reading and enthusiastic inflections. Idina Menzel (Rent) as the voice of Elsa is enthralling, and she gets the film’s “Defying Gravity”-esque showstopper, “Let it Go.” Kristen Bell (TV’s Veronica Mars) is terrific as the voice of Ana, vulnerable, heartfelt, and a little bit goofy, and she sings great. All the actors sing great (look what happens when you hire musical theater alums). Even better, the songs are catchy, well composed, and critical to the plot, short of a silly troll tune that should have been cut. The movie also looks gorgeous, which is surprising considering I thought the color palate would be limited with the film mostly taking place in the snow. But what makes the movie truly enjoyable is how emotionally engaging it is, the somber opening twenty minutes setting up just how much tragedy and misunderstanding there is between Ana and Elsa (the melancholy end to their song killed me). Their eventual reconciliation and the selfless acts of bravery might just make you misty. Frozen is a holiday treat for families, animation aficionados, and those hoping Disney could make a film with positive messages for young girls. In a weak year for animation, this rockets to the top of 2013. Just make sure you get the Disney version for your family and not, you know, the horror movie of the same name about people stranded on a ski lift. Though that’s a pretty good survival thriller itself, so, your call.

Nate’s Grade: A-

Hit and Run (2012)

Hit and Run was a labor of love for actor Dax Shephard (TV’s Parenthood). He wrote the script, co-directed the film, did plenty of his own car stunts, edited the film, and got his longtime girlfriend, the irascible Kristen Bell (Forgetting Sarah Marshall) to co-star as his love interest. I just wish the movie were better. It’s something of a strange mix, a road chase that zips along to loping comedic rhythms, spending as much time having characters engage in self-aware conversations about a variety of topics. It’s like a rom-com with car chases. Shepard and Bell are terrific together and have a natural comedic chemistry to them, an ease that befits both of their acting styles. Then there’s some of the more troubling comedic moments, like when the villainous Bradley Cooper (The Hangover) literally ties a leash around a black man and forces him to eat dog food. It’s one uncomfortable scene to watch. Then there are sudden bursts of violence and nudity, to go along with the bizarre conversational tangents. The plot is a loose collection of near-misses and digressive asides. It wants to be one of those 70s car chase comedies, something along the likes of a raunchier Smokey and the Bandit. This movie does keep you guessing, but it rarely adds up to anything worth all the trouble. Car enthusiasts will probably enjoy all the vehicular eye candy, and I’m happy to see Bell tackle a meatier role than she seems to be offered at this time, but I can’t work up more than a half-hearted shrug for Hit and Run. It looks good but just has nowhere to go.

Nate’s Grade: C+

Scream 4 (2011)

What do you do when your satiric self-aware take on pop culture becomes the MO for a generation? Back in 1996, Scream was a breath of fresh air by sending up dusty horror staples and having highly literate characters, with exceptional vocabularies, deconstruct genre elements while ironically falling victim to them as well. In 2011, Scream 4, an obvious paycheck grab, is showing its age. After a rather nifty series of opening fake-outs, which gave me hope that returning writer Kevin Williamson was going to finely skewer the conventions of horror since Scream last went dormant in 2000, but sadly this is not the case. “New decade, new rules,” one character says, but it’s all so much of the same. People run, they get stabbed, only the locations are truly different. There are a few witty jabs about the obsession with reboots and remakes, and Williamson does secretly work a crafty symmetry to the first film as far as characters go. The body count is much higher but the scare quotient is low. And then brining back the original cast (Neve Campbell, David Arquette, Courtney Cox) seems like a waste if they cede almost all screen time to a bunch of fresh-faced high school kids who were learning to walk when Campbell was learning to run for her life. The satirical elements feel so lazy; if you’re going to introduce technology-obsessed characters and the narcissism of social media, then do something with it. Don’t introduce an element like a webcam and then barely use it. The scares are about as flimsy as the commentary. The reveal of the killer(s) is stupid enough, as is the cracked motivation, but the ending just piles one absurdity onto another. It doesn’t know when to stop, and Scream 4 flirts with some daring possibilities to wrap up its bloodshed. Scream 4 is a drifting vehicle, wasting potential at every opportunity. The weight of all those red herrings, genre riffs, ironic twists, and self-aware characters has gotten to be too much. The Scream franchise has morphed into what it once parodied.

Nate’s Grade: C

Couples Retreat (2009)

\Vince Vaughn is a likable scamp. He’s generally played the same quick-witted, charming, motor-mouth lout in every movie since 2005’s smash, Wedding Crashers. He’s been working fairly nonstop since then and has, by all accounts, become something of a box office draw, which seems bizarre if you think about it long enough. So the best thing I can say about Vaughn’s new comedy Couples Retreat is, hey, at least he’s making sure his pals can pay the bills.

I think it was that famed poet Pat Benatar who said love is a battlefield. She never went through marriage counseling (note: maybe she did, I don’t care to actually research this). The movie centers around four dysfunctional couples that take a vocational to a tropical island resort. Dave (Vaughn) has trouble prioritizing his wife, Ronnie (Malin Akerman). Joey (Jon Favreau) and Lucy (Kristin Davis) have been together ever since she got pregnant in high school. They’re at each other’s throats and secretly looking to cheat on each other. Jason (Jason Bateman) and his way younger wife, Cynthia (Kristen Bell), are unable to conceive a baby. They’re very organized about their life and cannot handle life’s deviations. Finally, Shane (Faizon Love) has been dumped by his wife and is taking the loss hard. He’s found comfort in a flighty twenty-year-old girl (Kali Hawk) that he can barely keep up with. The vacation is interrupted when the couples learn that they must participate in the resort’s relationship therapy sessions or leave. The couples must stick it out to in order to save failing relationships and ride those nifty Jet skis.

Couples Retreat sure doesn’t feel like any vacation for the audience. Directed by Peter “Ralphie” Billingsley (longtime friend and producing partner for Vaughn and Favreau), the pacing is leaden and the movie feels like its coasting without any momentum. Structurally, the plot is not your series of escalating events but more a relentless parade of tiny plot speed bumps, seemingly indistinguishable from the last. Many scenes just bump right into each other with little transition. Billingsley does not show that he comprehends the rhythms of comedy. Even at a mere 107 minutes, this movie felt twice as long to me. Like Peter Jackson’s King Kong, it just takes way too damn long for these people to get to the freaking island. I don’t need a half hour of setup for stock characters. Many scenes will go on too long and then just sort of come to an abrupt end, like Vaughn and his friends were saying, “Well, we’ve taken this as far as we can go. The scenes don’t end in climaxes or revelations or punch lines, they just end. So after a while I felt like Couples Retreat was one long draggy middle of a mediocre movie stretched out interminably. It’s the equivalent of an eternity of waiting in a doctor’s office.

The character work is haphazard at best. You would think with the premise involving introspection and communication that the screenplay might offer up some deeper characters. You would be mistaken. Each character is given one note/generalized conflict to work, and they stay exactly within that narrow field of play. The male-female dynamics are Joey and Lucy have been together since high school and now they each have wandering eyes. Of course this kind of waffling infidelity is played for such sophomoric yuk-yuks like Joey getting caught masturbating and Joey getting an erection during a massage. You see a trend there? Cynthia and Jason are too anal retentive about their lives and the fun has died out. Sounds like room for some comedy. Oh, and they are also having trouble conceiving, which is way too serious a topic for this kind of movie. It’s somewhat amusing to think of Vaughn as the most stable character in a family comedy; it’s sort of like when Christopher Walken was the voice of reason in 2004’s equally bad, Man on Fire. What is Vaughn’s problem exactly anyway? He’s a “video game seller” who spends too much time… selling video games? The particulars of his job are too nebulous; does he work at a large chain, does he work at a software production company, what does he do that he can’t bother helping out his wife for one afternoon? You could almost certainly eliminate Faizon Love’s character completely. He’s just in the movie to crank out obligatory “older guy with too young girl” jokes, and his resolution is so hackneyed and reliant upon ridiculous coincidence (surprise, his ex-wife has tracked him down to the resort!) that it hurts the brain.

The movie has the benefit of being made in one of the most gorgeous places on earth. I’m sure the cast and crew had a great time making this movie. Too bad it doesn’t translate well to the paying customers. I was surprised at how stodgy the overall film is. I expected it to look down on hedonism, and I appreciated the movie treating marriage as a serious commitment that constantly needs to be engaged, but what is up with how stuffy this message comes across? The people who aren’t in relationships are seen as little party animals looking for their next carefree fix. Sure marriage is going to look better to the masses when you make the alternative so irresponsible. However, prolonging unhappy, extremely dysfunctional couples who can no longer stand each other isn’t helping either. Can’t some dysfunctional couples just grow apart? Why must there be reprehensibly forced happy endings all around? Couples Retreat, after awhile, kind of feels like your grandmother lecturing you about your relationships.

There’s much potential for laughs with Couples Retreat, but you’ll do no better than scattered chuckles. This is definitely a case where all the good jokes were highlighted in the trailer. Couples Retreat squanders so much talent, mostly consisting of a boy’s club and giving the actresses little to do or play off of. Akerman (The Heartbreak Kid), Bell (Forgetting Sarah Marshall), and Davis (Sex and the City) are all very capable comedic actresses; Kali Hawk quickly becomes irritating with what she’s been given. The island therapists include the hilarious John Michael Higgins (The Ugly Truth) and Ken Jeong (The Hangover), who must be contractually obligated to appear in every movie this year. I would have thought that eccentric therapists plus the natural conflicts of couples counseling would have provided a wealth of funny material. It’s a shame then that the counseling scenes are kept short. It would be a better asset for this movie if it spent more time in therapy and less time doing goofy, trust building exercises by island guru Jean Reno. Seriously, swimming with sharks is supposed to help a deteriorating marriage how? There are comic setups that look like they’re going to lead to something juicy, and then they just fizzle, like a Guitar Hero battle that goes from silly to lame all too quick. A buff and tan yoga instructor (Carlos Ponce) gets a little too in touchy-feely with his female pupils. But then it stays at a distance, hammering home the same PG-13 safe sight gags. It’s like watching people dry hump for laughs. As I expected, the funniest parts are the naturally combative interplay between Vaughn and Favreau. Part of that may be because they’ve been friends for over a decade and part of that might be that both are credited as screenwriters, along with producer Dana Fox (What Happens in Vegas).

Let’s look at how I’ve described Couples Retreat in this review. Waiting in a doctor?s office. Listening to your grandmother condemn your relationship. Doesn’t sound like much of a good time, does it? The comedy consists of mostly one-liners with a whole lot of dead space in between. The characters are so limited, the actors are shamefully wasted, and the comic set pieces are too meandering to be amusing. Somewhere there’s an edgier, R-rated version of this movie that got scrubbed clean to fit a PG-13 mandate. You see glimpses of the naughtier movie Couples Retreat might have been. This is a movie in need of some serious counseling of its own.

Nate’s Grade: C

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)

So much ink has been spilled on Jason Segel’s full-frontal nudity that you would think the public has never known that penises have appeared on film before. It seems that female nudity is used to titillate and male nudity is used for awkward laughs, and this is the case with Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which Segel stars in and wrote. His character Peter is humiliated by a breakup, even more so because the man is breaking down while in the buff. He even states at one point the naive belief that as long as he doesn’t put clothes on reality cannot hit. It’s funny and sad and he’s completely vulnerable, but Forgetting Sarah Marshall is much more than the story of one slightly doughy man and his penis. This is a story from producer Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up) about heartache and mending and the struggle it takes to keep a relationship healthy. But it is also about a man and his penis.

Peter (Segel) is dating TV actress Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell), star of the brilliantly reflexive title Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime. Peter provides the music for the TV show, which he laments is nothing more than “ominous tones.” Then one day she has some bad news. She’s breaking up with him (this is where Segel loses it, both emotionally and from a clothes perspective). Peter mopes and cries for days, goes out to clubs with his step-brother (Bill Hader), and tries to engage in meaningless sex but that too leads to crying and moping. Peter takes a vacation to Hawaii in order to forget his ex, but as chance would have it Sarah is already there with her new man, British rocker Aldous Snow (Russell Brand). Peter is stuck in the same hotel as his ex and her new lover. The hotel staff takes pity on Peter and they all seem to look out for him, setting him up in a $6,000 suite, involving him in hotel activities, and feeding him drinks. Rachel Jansen (Mila Kunis) works at the front desk and takes a special interest in Peter and his woes. She helps Peter get over Sarah and fin

Forgetting Sarah Marshall is another hit from the Apatow brand. It features another leading man with an unorthodox physique and a healthy interest in geek culture. However, Peter doesn’t need to learn to be responsible, or outgoing, or to transition from boy to man. He’s actually fairly well adjusted and even has a job that suits his composing talents. His dilemma is heartbreak, a universal affliction if ever there was one. He’s a little frumpy and has a thing for puppets, but Peter is really a sweet guy who is working through the pain of a breakup. He was together with Sarah for over five years, so it feels strange when the characters keep harping on him to get over it in the span of a few weeks. He is awash in self-pity and wails so loudly that other guests complain about a woman crying in his room. He makes for a capable lead and his budding romance with Rachel allows him to heal. The romance is strongly felt and I was completely absorbed by wanting Peter and Rachel to have a happily ever after.

Segel is a charitable screenwriter. The could have easily become a vanity wish-fulfillment project, but instead he rounds out the main characters and builds a deep supporting cast that add delightful additions that enrich the narrative. I admire Segel’s decision making when it came to fleshing out his characters instead of writing them off as stock types. In an ordinary romantic comedy, the beautiful girl that dumps the lead is a bitch. It would have been extremely easy for Segel to demonize Sarah and keep her as an established antagonist, but instead he makes her feel real. She has real, solid reasons for her breakup with Peter, and she has several revealing moments that open her character up and humanize her. Aldous is another pristine example of Segel’s screenwriting skill. In an ordinary romantic comedy, the girl always dumps the nice guy for the douchebag, and Aldous starts in that territory. But a magical thing happens and as the film continues Aldous becomes very charming; he’s unpretentious and is the same transparent and genial man to everybody. He appreciates Peter’s music and gets him and Peter’s passions. Peter says at one point, “This would be so much easier if you weren’t so cool.” It would have been easy and even expected for Segel to cast both the ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend as evil cretins. Instead, he broadens and rounds out all the central characters to the point that they feel like real people and not just comedy types.

The movie is resolutely pleasant and amiable, lacking gut-busting laughs but offering plenty of cringe comedy. It’s not as outrageous as other Apatow comedies, or as good, but it is completely entertaining. There is one terrific sequence that stands out in my memory. It involves the two couples sitting at an awkward dinner. Then they comment on how awkward it is, then they comment on commenting how awkward it is. The dinner bathes in unease but then as it carries on you see the different tensions. Aldous and Peter hit it off discussing their dislike for a terrible horror script offered to Sarah that involved a killer cell phone (sounds like One Missed Call). They are genuinely bonding. Sarah hides her growing dissatisfaction with the decisions she’s made, but Rachel catches on. She kisses Peter long and hard and shoots Sarah a very knowing glance that all women know as “back off.” This dinner packs all of the different tensions of the movie into one well-written, expertly performed scene. The characters aren’t shouting their feelings point-blank but you can follow along to the conversations that are unsaid.

I love comedies that involve deep supporting casts, where a supporting player can enter at the right moment and deliver a perfect in-character addition. I was delighted at how wide Segel cast his net of characters and yet how well incorporated they are. There’s a newlywed couple (30 Rock‘s Jack McBrayer, Maria Thayler) that haven’t mastered the art of sexual intercourse. They’ve waited until marriage and know are wondering what all the fuss is about. Hearing McBrayer’s amped-up frustration is funny, but it’s even better when he solicits advice from Aldous on pleasing a woman. The tutorial between the two left me in stiches and made me like Aldous even more. I enjoyed spending time with all of these characters. Apatow regulars Jonah Hill and Paul Rudd pop up in hilarious cameos. Rudd is a super stoned surf instructor and Hill is an obsessed Aldous Snow fan who creepily doesn’t abide touching boundaries. The supporting players never outstay their welcome and add great splashes of variety to the story.

Forgetting Sarah Marhsall continues the Apatow tradition of mixing raunch with sentimentality. There’s plenty of dirty humor but it’s the little touches that won me over. I loved the title of Sarah Marshall’s TV show, perfect references to movies like The Buena Vista Social Club, Rachel reflecting Peter’s romantic advances only to initiate the first kiss, the brilliant music video for Aldous Snow where he carries an earnest sign that reads, “Sodomize Intolerance,” the flashbacks to Peter and Sarah’s relationship, the helpful advice of Dwayne the bartender and his great knowledge of fish native to Hawaii, and a vocally competitive dual of sexual intercourse. This is a comedy that works because even they details have been looked after with care.

Segel easily conveys his character’s sweetness; the man can’t help but be sweet even in anger. Bell is given complexity with her role and nails bitchiness and tearful regret with the same skill she radiated on her defunct TV show, Veronica Mars. I never thought Kunis was capable of playing more than a shrill ditherhead thanks to her role on TV’s That 70s Show but she nicely handles the drama. She makes the romance more than believable but desirable. The actors all do a great job but it is Brand that steals every single scene he is in. His carefree demeanor and hysterical physical gyrations cast him early as one type of character, but his charisma rules the day and will win over audiences.

This is all familiar romantic ground covered by countless other movies. Boy loses girl, boy meets new girl, boy gets new girl, but Forgetting Sarah Marshall adds the Apatow touch. Another Freaks and Geeks alum writes another male-centric but hilarious comedy that deals with mature themes in untidy ways. The movie takes place in a world that resembles ours, where people are not cast in black and white, good or bad, victim and victimizer. Segel’s screenplay lets the audience empathize with a wealth of characters, and the humor is bittersweet but mostly on the sweet side. Any film that ends with a puppet musical about Dracula has to be seen as special.

Nate’s Grade: B+

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