Jason Segel has been paying his dues in bit parts for the Judd Apatow comedy factory, most notably and recently in Knocked Up, as Seth Rogen's smooth-talking lothario roommate. Finally, however, in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Segel dons the mantle of leading role in a film he also wrote. The film is produced, once more, by Apatow, and the comedy has all of the markings common with an Apatow production: the buffoonish male, the strikingly good-looking romantic interests, and a cast of fine supporting bit players, including Jonah Hill (Superbad) and Paul Rudd (almost every Apatow film). Marshall is a light and enjoyable romp, paced and shot in the same airy fashion that Knocked Up was, but, like its predecessor, the jokes don't come fast enough nor land well enough for this to be a truly fulfilling comedy. Segel paints a reasonably effective portrait of a "normal" man living through the pains of a nasty break-up, but while the writing may be strong, the overall package isn't as well-rounded or polished as some of Apatow's earlier films, like The 40 Year-Old Virgin.
Marshall revolves around four major characters, all representing the various viewpoints 20-somethings can have in love and loss, or, at least, when vacationing in Hawaii. Segel leads the group as a heartbroken music composer who crafts ambient sounds for a CSI-style crime show that also stars his girlfriend, Marshall, played by Kristen Bell. Their sexual and relational tensions bind most of the film, as they bump into each other at restaurants and bristle at the idea of living in adjacent hotel rooms. Their relationship, however, is one of the most bland and unoriginal aspects of the film. The components for a realistic post-relationship are there, but they aren't particularly engaging and don't provide fertile ground for the strongest comedic elements as they should.
As this is an Apatow production, it's no surprise that the supporting players deliver the most entertainment. Mila Kunis (That 70's Show) plays a spritely and spunky hotel receptionist who gives Segel a dose of reality and a much-needed diversion from his emotional strife. Truly remarkable, however, is Russell Brand, who portrays a promiscuous pop-singer, and here is Marshall's rebound relationship; Russell steals scenes continuously, delivering heaping portions of much-needed hilarity as well as depth to a character that could have been easily crafted overly broad.
The film itself, like Knocked Up, meanders a bit, which is both it's downfall and, paradoxically, its most endearing and enduring quality. As Segel schleps around Hawaii, scenes move quickly from one mild joke to another, and even though a cohesive narrative forms, it never feels as concrete as other recent situational comedies (or even Apatow's 40 Year-Old Virgin). Still, even though each brief scene feels as though it were a snapshot, those snapshots linger in the mind, not always remembered because of their humor, but because they, like most of the film, exude an undeniable sweetness.