There is a moment in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," the latest production from comedy guru Judd Apatow, that is filled with genuine sincerity and realism that I could not stop a lone, solitary tear from rolling down my cheek.
That one was part of several more bouts of tears streaming down my face. Only these other instances where my face became Niagra Falls was from the laughter induced by "Forgetting Sarah Marshall."
Peter Bretter (Jason Segal) is dating the hottest actress in Hollywood-Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). Sarah stars in the hit NBC series "Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime," a part-"Law & Order," part-"CSI" detective series that all but invokes the recent memories of Bell as the title character in short-lived UPN series "Veronica Mars" but also takes more potshots at the CBS series and a deadpan mockery of David Caruso, employed to perfection by the actor playing Sarah's partner (but spoiling would take away some of the fun).
Peter gets to work on the show: scoring it. He fills every homicide scene, autopsy and suspect interrogation with clichéd "ominous, dark tones."
Then one of those dark times enters into his reality when Sarah surprises him, arriving home early from a trip with some news: she's dumping him. Even worse, it's because of another guy.
Heartbroken-and, more specifically when she breaks it to him, butt naked-Peter aches and pains over six years with her, wallowing away in his unkempt house listening to Sinead O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U." He calls upon his step-brother Brian (Bill Hader) to go to bars and clubs to aid in his need for sexual healing. One such one-nighter ends in tears, and not from rolling over onto something sharp: he still can't get over Sarah.
So Brian suggests a vacation; Peter chooses Hawaii. One must wonder why he would choose one of the most romantic destinations as his place of misery. But as someone once said, misery loves company. And that company is Sarah.
Upon arrival, Peter flirts it up with the desk clerk Rachael (Mila Kunis) wile Sarah walks up wondering what he's doing there.
"I came here to murder you," Peter trails off into a painful I-shouldn't-have-said-that laugh.
Sarah isn't alone either. Her new man is along for the trip, Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) the lead singer of (fictional) band Infinite Sorrow and a notorious British horndog. He sings songs about saving the Earth and helping starving kids while dry-humping nuns and kissing police officers in the music video.
Peter decides to stay at the same hotel, thanks to some quick and sympathetic room maneuvering by Rachael. Every day, he starts breakfast with rum and pineapple juice and cries like an old woman the most of the rest of the day. He tries surfing with the spaced-out, toked-up surf instructor Chuck (Paul Rudd), but all he can think about is the void left by Sarah. Fortunately, Rachael is both eager and loving to spend time with Peter and show him there is life after Sarah Marshall.
While Apatow has not directed any of his branded comedies since last summer's "Knocked Up," he provides his usual stamp of crass, bawdy humor and delicate, sweet sincerity. This film generates several memorable comic moments of recent memory, notably a second shot at Bell and her mediocre feature film choices following "Veronica Mars."
Speaking of Ms. Bell, she does a great job-thanks to a script written by Segal-in balancing our love-hate relationship of her: what she did was wrong, but breaking up is a two-street. We soon begin to sympathize with her instead of selling her outright as another word for a female dog.
Kunis, likewise, plays an almost wise sage in love and romance, playing a pained woman with a romantically troubled past that led her to Hawaii, away from college in Los Angeles. One forgets her hard-nosed, bossy Jackie on "That 70's Show" and admires her bravery for such a project. But, hey-she does voice Meg on "Family Guy," so she does have a sense of humor to compliment her striking yet subtle beauty.
Segal is perfect for his role, fitting in nicely as the lovelorn everyman. He's caring, funny, flawed and vulnerable, but not in a way that has been seen time and time again. Like most of Apatow comedies, the male lead is not the most handsome-in fact, sometimes the least handsome-or the most popular, but his wit and charm surpasses those imperfections; Segal is another entry into that. Another of Apatow's alums from the all-too brief yet inescapably brilliant TV series "Freaks & Geeks," Segal is the right blend of sweet and sour.
One of the most important parts of this movie is it's characters-Brand is the seminal favorite of this group. He damn right steals the show, and proves Apatow has a supporting cast-mostly regulars in his other films, including small parts for Jonah Hill of "Superbad" and Jack McBrayer of "Talladega Nights" and "30 Rock"-at his disposal. Brand, a soon-to-be-known (for sure) stand-up comic, revels in the Apatow rule of "improvisation approved." Also, for those who get up the second credits start rolling: stay seated. Wait 30 seconds or so and a great cameo will appear in a faux NBC commercial.
"Forgetting Sarah Marshall" may be the least raunchy of Apatow's comedies (if that's possible), in terms of dialogue, but what comes as shock value to some is genius to others. Frontal male nudity appears for milliseconds times two in this, but only adds to the humor as well as the meaning: Peter is naked without Sarah, or anyone for that matter. Like a reinterpretation of "The Emperor's New Clothes," Peter finds happiness being so barren and open.
This is what makes "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" so important. Apatow has provided another film into his repertoire that is as culturally significant and authentic in its realistic character portrayal and storytelling as John Hughes did with such films during the 80s as "The Breakfast Club" and "Sixteen Candles."
And you can't forget a film as important as that.
Especially if that mound of delight ends in a Jim Henson-style musical of a horror classic.