As is always the case, one of the simplest ways to a memorable movie is having great actors do great things. Here, the wonderful cast does not so much do great things as be great people, namely themselves. Bell and Segel seem to be pretty much themselves, and Brand, Paul Rudd, and Jonah Hill chip in with performances very much within their comfort zone. Everyone plays to their strengths, with Bill Hader as Peter’s dorky friend and Jack McBrayer stepping in as his uberweird self. Before Aldous Snow offended multitudes of people in Get Him to the Greek, he was serenading Sarah Marshall at Jason Segel’s behest. Paul Rudd only shows up for a short while, but he manages to bring his usual self-effacing everyman to his role as the worst surfing instructor ever. He only adds to Peter’s emotional confusion, spewing out lines like “When life gives you lemons, just say f$%# the lemons and bail” instead of the expected romantic wisdom. Likewise, Hill makes his presence felt in brief moments, adding to Peter’s fear that everyone has left him, moving away and towards Aldous Snow.
Perhaps this is why the movie stands out among other similar fare. Peter leaves the horrors of home for the beauty of the islands only to find growing tides of dissent rising up against him along the Pacific shores. Segel is so masterful in his long-faced hopelessness, and Mila Kunis so believable in her adoration and pity, that their saving of one another seems to come about organically, just as real and perchance as Sarah Marshall being at the same resort in the first place. Surrounded by weirdos and nymphomaniacs, Peter remains astoundingly normal; he does not make grand romantic gestures or follow the path of romcom heroes before him, refusing Sarah’s advances and wallowing in a terribly unexciting and pitiful manner. Even as his presence wears down Aldous and Sarah’s relationship, he persists in seeking a new love.
As you can tell, FSM is not The Notebook or Sweet Home Alabama. Much like (500) Days of Summer and unlike most of our mainstream romantic films, this one redeems an individual’s ability to get their life back together not in order to woo the lost lover but to leave them behind. Segel and Kunis escape the Hawaiian paradise in which we expected them to rekindle lost loves and end up in a wintry city where they need each other’s warmth (and puppets) to survive. We don’t get to see them happy years down the road. We just get to see Jason Segel naked again, comforting us by showing that he’s capable of moving on.
I can’t believe I just thought so hard about this movie. To keep it simple, it’s super entertaining. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go watch it four more times.