Thursday, June 21, 2012

Video Review: Get Him to the Greek is Solid, But Struggles to Break Away the Forgetting Sarah Marshall Mold

P. Diddy becomes an angry Terminator-type when
he's trippin' in this movie.
In his first venture behind the camera, Nicholas Stoller gave us Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which, for my money, is a romantic comedy classic.  Co-written by Stoller and star Jason Segel, the film offers a brutally honest and moving look at a man in post-breakup freefall, while also providing a constant barrage of laughs from a large cast of talented performers. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of the genre where the likes of Annie Hall, Manhattan, When Harry Met Sally, and The Apartment reside, but it certainly gets in shouting distance.

With his follow-up Get Him to the Greek, Stoller has gone back to the well… sort of. Not only does the film spinoff one of the principle players from Marshall, but it also employs the same basic premise of a man in post-breakup freefall.  The result is a decent comedy that doesn’t quite live up to the first film.

Aldous Snow is a fantastic comic creation, and Russell Brand deservedly became an overnight sensation here in America for his performance in Marshall. A lesser movie would’ve established Aldous as a villain or used him strictly for jokes, but Stoller and Segel opted for something a bit more ambiguous, and Brand really ran with it. While they didn’t exactly make Aldous three dimensional, he was given an appropriate amount of shading, making the lament “Fuck you're cool! It's so hard to say, because, like, I hate you in so many ways” ring true not only for Segel’s Peter Bretter but for the audience as well.

That tiny hat is pretty tiny, but can't compare to the ones
Kristen Wigg has in her collection.
In Greek, Stoller (writing solo this time) outfits Aldous in three dimensions, equipping him with daddy issues, a child he adores, and a crushing breakup of his own that has led him to fall off the wagon. Brand does some nice work in illuminating the depths of Aldous’ pain (he really is great in this role, despite how annoying he can be on award shows), but conceptually the character worked better when he was more enigmatic and carefree.
 As Aldous’ ex Jackie Q, Rose Byrne takes the Sarah Marshall role of heartbreaker, albeit with plenty of madness thrown in (with Snow given more heft in this outing, much of the vapid, sexually-charged pop star humor falls to her). As her best-in-show performance from Bridesmaids proved, Byrne is a game comedienne, and she’s in fine form here. However, unlike the antagonists in the first movie (Sarah and Aldous), the role of Jackie Q is nothing but a joke, and so it’s hard to see why a free-loving guy like Aldous would ever want to settle with her in the first place.

Whereas Marshall had Mila Kunis’ Beth help Peter work through his issues, Greek focuses on the developing bromance between Snow and Aaron (Jonah Hill, portraying a different character than the one he did in Marshall), the record company suit tasked with escorting Snow from London to the Greek Theater for a 10th Anniversary concert. The two performers are very good together, and the relationship they build is complicated and interesting.

The film is less successful in developing Aaron’s personal journey, which finds him simultaneously dealing with pressure from his unhinged boss Sergio (a funny P. Diddy Sean Combs) and a rough patch in his relationship with his doctor girlfriend Daphne (Elisabeth Moss). As I’ve said before, Hill’s greatest strength is his ability to play off of other actors, and he works well with both Combs and Moss. He has a particularly palpable chemistry with Moss, but their issues as a couple seems forced and then impossibly resolved in a way that’s phony and undermines the emotional credibility of the characters.
The presence of Elisabeth Moss would add a whole half star
grade to this movie if I gave star grades. I <3 Peggy Olsen.
As with Marshall, Greek has a number of side characters played by a slew of talented people (Colm Meaney, Ellie Kemper, Nick Kroll, Aziz Ansari, and a slew of celebrities, most notably Lars Ulrich, as themselves), but the film doesn’t given them nearly as much to work with as its predecessor gave Paul Rudd, Hill, Jack McBrayer, and Bill Hader.   
And that’s really this movie in a nutshell. It’s trying so hard to do so many of the same things Marshall did and constantly coming up short in comparison. Hell, it even has some original songs from Segel (as well as a slew form various writers, including producer Judd Apatow), but nothing that quite measures up to “Inside Of You,” little lone “Dracula’s Lament.”

Generally, I don’t like to judge movies in comparison to other movies because it can be unfair, but when a movie so closely emulates its predecessor, it’s hard not to do that. As a result, Greek just seems to be lacking.
To be clear (and fair), the movie is pretty good and does distinguish itself in some ways (this isn’t a Hangover and Hangover Part II situation). I do admire some of the screwy and dark places Stoller was willing to go, but really, that’s part of the problem. This movie could’ve been its own entity – a far weirder, more detached look at the corrupting nature of showbiz, for instance – but instead it mostly has been forced into the mold of the first movie. The end result is a comedy that is consistently entertaining, but not much more than that.
Greek is at its best when it gets weird, as it does in the "Stroke the Furry
Wall" scene.