Jason Segel as Peter Bretter
Kristen Bell as Sarah Marshall
Mila Kunis as Rachel Jansen
Russell Brand as Aldous Snow
Bill Hader as Brian Bretter
Liz Cackowski as Liz Bretter
Maria Thayer as Wyoma
Jack McBrayer as Darald
Davon McDonald as Dwayne the Bartender
Steve Landesberg as Dr. Rosenbaum
Jonah Hill as Matthew the Waiter
Paul Rudd as Chuck
Kala Alexander as Greg
Directed by Nicholas Stoller
Finding humor in situations we’ve all been through, and a few that only haunt our worst nightmares, Jason Segel and Nick Stoller make their mark in the Apatow-verse with a very funny date movie.
Peter Bretter (Jason Segel) is a successful television composer who’s been dating hot television star Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell) for five years until she suddenly breaks up with him. Despondent, Peter decides to get away and go to Hawaii, but once he arrives there, he learns that Sarah and her new boyfriend, rock star Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) have also come to Hawaii on vacation. Will Peter ever get over Sarah and might the resort’s ultra-cute front desk girl (Mila Kunis) help him?
We’ve almost reached the point where people might start wondering if Judd Apatow is on some sort of vengeance quest to get back the foolish mortals who cancelled his two television shows “Freaks and Geeks” and “Undeclared,” because here we have another member of the cast of those shows receiving a starring vehicle, one from his own script no less. Jason Segel is charming and likeable with a personality somewhere between a young Tom Hanks and Judge Reinhold so making the leap to leading man isn’t too big a leap, and working with director Nick Stoller (another “Undeclared” alum), they do a lot with a fairly slim premise.
We first meet Segel’s Peter Bretter, a Hollywood composer, when he’s ready to take the next step in his relationship with his girlfriend, television star Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell), but she breaks up with him unexpectedly, leaving him a complete mess. Deciding to take some time off, he goes to Hawaii for what will turn out to be the worst vacation ever, as he continuously runs into Sarah and her new boyfriend, a pretentious British rocker. Fortunately, Peter quickly makes friends with Rachel, the cute girl who works the hotel’s front desk, played by Mila Kunis from “That ’70s Show,” and she tries to help him forget how sucky his life has become since being dumped.
Taking a similar approach as “Knocked Up” in taking a real-life situation and mixing in equal parts raunchy humor and true heart-felt sentiment, Segel’s first movie turns something we’ve all experienced, a bad break-up, and turned it into the catalyst for some very funny moments involving a sadsack trying to get over his hot girlfriend with the help of people he meets in an unfamiliar setting.
While the results might not be nearly as laugh-a-minute as previous Apatow productions, Segel and Stoller do a really good job creating an environment that keeps things moving, while Segel himself is never afraid to do whatever it takes to get laughs, often at his own expense. He certainly has little reason to shy away from the amount of full frontal nudity we get from him, although most guys would probably have preferred more naked women. Still, with all the sex and nudity, the movie never goes overboard even as it never pulls punches, and there’s plenty of scenes that wouldn’t have been nearly as funny if toned down, like an awkward sexual reunion between Pete and Sarah late in the movie that might hit way too close to home with some viewers.
Even so, Kristen Bell is the weaker link in this dysfunctional duo, because other than looking hot in a pink bikini, there’s nothing about her character that makes you understand why Peter might be so stuck up on her especially when presented with the adorable Mila Kunis as another option. Russell Brand is also very funny playing Aldous Snow, a stereotypical British rock star with altruistic ideals, kind of a cross between Johnny Depp and Bono, who’s everything that Peter is not.
What really keeps the laughs rolling are how Segel and Stoller have surrounded the main quartet with some of the funniest members from the Apatow-verse with Paul Rudd and Jonah Hill taking point as two of the island’s wacky inhabitants. These characters end up being far more than mere cameos, both of them making repeat appearances to liven things up whenever the movie needs a quick injection of the funny. Hill is up to his normal standards as the outspoken waiter who’s a stalkerish fan of Sarah’s new rocker boyfriend, while Rudd is even more spaced-out as the world’s highest surfing coach. Bill Hader has a few funny moments as he pops up from time to time to offer some brotherly advice but it’s a fairly insubstantial role, allowing the likes of Jack McBrayer to steal the movie as a virginal newlywed on honeymoon and Davon McDonald getting some of the funniest quips with some of the few memorable and repeatable lines. (My favorite one is “Are those sad tissues or happy tissues?”)
As with Apatow’s “Knocked Up,” Segel and Stoller takes the movie on a lot of silly tangents by recreating some of Sarah Marshall’s ridiculous knock-off television shows and Peter’s dream gig of putting on a Dracula musical with puppets, something that’s even funnier when they actually do it. In the end, the inexperience of the creators is evident because the film isn’t as strongly executed as “Knocked Up” or “Superbad” possibly because so much of the humor involves vignettes of Peter’s interaction with Sarah or the other island inhabitants, but it all takes place within a fairly standard Hollywood rom-com plot structure. Still, when it comes down to it, the movie is funny, very funny, and the film’s flimsy structure and weak third act is forgivable, since otherwise, it’s a very sweet movie with lots of new and original ideas. While it doesn’t quite achieve the comedy perfection of “Superbad,” there’s enough potential in this first movie by Segel and Stoller that one can certainly look forward to future comedy collaborations from the duo.