Forgetting Sarah Marshall is one of my favourite comedies. I saw it three times at the cinema because I wanted to expose other people to it. Unlike other films I saw thrice, I never tired of Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
Get Him to the Greek transplants Russell Brand’s Aldous Snow from Forgetting Sarah Marshall and presents a different continuity. Jonah Hill, who featured in Forgetting Sarah Marshall as an hilarious foil for Brand (working largely because Brand almost entirely ignored him), here plays a different character: one not as funny.
The whole movie isn’t as funny, which was always going to be difficult. How do you top a puppet musical about Dracula? Short answer is: you don’t.
The slightly longer answer is that Forgetting Sarah Marshall was not your typical Apatow production, and Get Him to the Greek is … But it lacks that key ingredient that makes so many films in the Apatow Empire click.
Rock star and frontman of Infant Sorrow Aldous Snow released a terrible album, “African Child”, broke up with his girlfriend and fell off the wagon. Record company stooge Aaron Green (Hill) wants to revitalise Snow’s career with a 10th anniversary concert at The Greek. But Aaron isn’t as easy to manage as Aaron might have hoped.
Where Apatow films are at their finest is in the arena of the friendships between men. He puts the “buddy” in buddy comedy. Superbad is one of the greatest love stories of our time. The only downside of this trend is the creation of the loathsome genre term “bromance” (which somehow translates to real life: imagine that! Men! Being friends! With each other!).
What Get Him to the Greek would definitely have benefited from is more friendship. The strength is supposed to be the relationship between Aldous and Aaron but it’s not strictly there. They attempt to bond, but more of the time they’re getting into wacky madcap antics that aren’t strictly character driven, and Aaron has his rectum violated on more than one occasion (the horror of the second one is tossed away for laughs). As a result, a lot of the movie is funny but the characters don’t always gel as well as they should. Aldous’ character breakthrough doesn’t entirely ring true, nor does Aaron’s inevitable coming-to-terms with him. Hill and Brand act well enough in the roles (although Hill of course is unfortunately saddled with a less funny character than the last time he was up against Brand), but they’re not written with sufficient flesh on their bones to carry the “relationship” angle of the film.
What Get Him to the Greek gets right it gets pretty right indeed. Aaron is in a committed relationship with Daphne (Elisabeth Moss), an exhausted hospital intern. Theirs’ is a relationship that feels totally natural, one that has evolved from a time when they were both far less busy and were able to share their lives. What we’re left with is the sense of a love enduring despite extreme differences in their opinions and lifestyles. They break up at the start of the film but it does not reek of the permanence that one almost never gets in a comedy. Their attempted initial reconciliation is entirely bizarre (a lot of this movie is best characterized by “entirely bizarre”), but they are the most real thing about the whole exercise.
One consistent highlight is “Sean Combs” (AKA Puff Daddy, AKA P. Diddy) as record company president Sergio, who clearly loves the role. There is very little wastage in his character and he gets many of the best lines in a film that lives and dies by the quality of its dialogue rather than mere trifles such as “character development” and “narrative cohesion”. Combs gives the film permission to exist outside of reality and aids perfectly in suspension of disbelief. I don’t know if Combs has much range beyond this character, but he doesn’t strictly need it: he has enough money and this could conceivably be his “masterpiece”.
Another selling point is Rose Byrne as Aldous’ ex, Jackie Q. She exists almost in a bubble in the film, along with a great cameo from Lars Ulrich (“Why don’t you go sue Napster, you Danish bastard?”). Her brand of pop music is the most spot on parody in the entire film, taking the total lack of subtlety in modern chart hits and making it even less subtle. Her song “Ring ‘Round” makes various allusions to the “ring around [her] posey” and concludes with the line “I’m talking about my arsehole.” The explicit barely-subtext suddenly becomes insane supertext and the world, and your head, explodes. If Spinal Tap attacked lyrical subtle with a sledgehammer, Jackie Q and Infant Sorrow perform the equivalent of fishing with dynamite.
The entire soundtrack is basically great, despite the obvious choices like “London Calling” when Aaron first travels to London. I would quite happily buy an Infant Sorrow or Jackie Q album, because I believe Russell Brand can actually sing. A couple of songs from Forgetting Sarah Marshall are reprised, and this is a good thing, as I have been singing (and getting into trouble for singing) “Inside of You” in public since 2008.
Throwaway jokes that I don’t give key demos enough credit to “get” are among the film’s funniest (“This is the longest corridor ever!” “It’s positively Kubrickian!”); repetition (“furry walls!” “Geoffrey!”) is guaranteed to please most of the audience. It’s hard to deny that most of the movie is pretty funny, despite whatever shortcomings in the pit of its soul.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall was possibly most famous for featuring Jason Segel’s penis no less than twice. Watchmen has long since eclipsed that film as the standard for filmic penile discussion (seriously, heterosexual males are obsessed with Doctor Manhattan’s genitals to a degree unseen in anyone else). As if to “make up” for Segel’s nudity, Get Him to the Greek features several sets of breasts “bigger than Christmas”. It’s a lot less “friendly” to audiences on the whole than Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and that was a film with lines like “you have Christ between your thighs!”. That was a slightly raunchy rom-com. It’s harder to say what this is: it’s a road/buddy movie with slightly too little in the way of buddy and slightly too much in the way of substance abuse. It’s … Midnight Run? I honestly couldn’t tell you.
Get Him to the Greek is a largely enjoyable, frequently and deliberately cringe worthy movie that doesn’t entirely click. It’s pretty good, but its story isn’t wholly there, and it is difficult to compare it favourably to the sublime Forgetting Sarah Marshall. A little bit more heart and a little bit less rectal interference would have gone a long way to making this a better film.
Post script: Get Him to the Greek is better than Apatow’s Funny People to an immeasurable degree.