When I first saw this in the theater, I only liked it a bit. In fact, I only wound up buying it when I asked my wife if she wanted it. Good thing for me she enthusiastically said yes, because I really liked it my second time around, and now it's gone on to become one of my absolute favorite movies in general and comedies in particular. This movie makes me feel happy, and it certainly helps to bring me out of my winter funk with all of its beautiful Hawaiian scenery. Of course, the characters and storyline help a lot as well.
The basic premise is that the main character, Peter, winds up getting dumped by his actress girlfriend, Sarah Marshall. He goes to Hawaii to forget all about it, and he winds up staying at the same hotel that she and her new boyfriend just happen to be staying at as well. Of course, he winds up meeting somebody new and the two really hit it off, only to have something get in the way of the budding young romance. Ultimately, everything winds up working out, and Peter now has a new girlfriend, Rachel.
Sounds pretty basic and downright formulaic, right? Well, in my mind, there's nothing wrong with following a formula. What needs to set it apart are the dialogue and the characterizations. That's where this movie really excels. Here are some more specific reasons why it's good:
1. There are no strawmen - I praised The Bridge to Terabithia for the exact same reason, even though I would probably be more willing to allow for a strawman or two in a kid's movie. In comedies, I can tolerate them a bit (as there are a few in The Hangover, a comedy which I enjoyed quite a bit). Still, too often a comedy relies on somebody who's personality is completely one-dimensional in order for the audience to root for the protagonist. That's okay in Blazing Saddles or The Naked Gun, but if the movie also wants me to feel some genuine empathy and emotion, a strawman just cheapens it.
Let me be more specific. You definitely root for Peter in this film, and you find yourself thinking that Sarah is pretty selfish in a lot of respects and more concerned with her media image than what really matters. That said, she gets to have her say. She gets to tell Peter off, and we find out that he's not so perfect either. She actually tried to get the relationship to work, but she was having a hard time with how unmotivated he was. You basically wind up realizing that they just weren't a very ideal match with one another.
Even more impressive is Sarah's new boyfriend, rocker Aldous Snow. Here's a character who could so easily be a one-dimensional prop, and I probably wouldn't have minded at all. When we first see him, he's singing the wonderfully vague "We've Got to Do Something," a song with a supposed "message". There are plenty of scenes that show him as a shallow doofus as well. Shoot, there's even a great bit where Sarah points out that his tattoos don't make any sense.
And you know what? Let me tell you something about these tattoos, okay. That is Buddhist, that is Nordic, that is Hindu, that's just gibberish. They are completely conflicting ideologies, and that does not make you a citizen of the world, it makes you full of shit!But even Aldous is a fully-realized character. Peter himself admits that he's cool. Aldous also is more than happy to take time out of his day to help a young Mormon couple learn how to have good sex with one another. He's the kind of guy that I think would be a lot of fun to hang out with, even if you might snicker a bit at the stuff he says later on.
2. The dialogue - So many great lines in this one. Here's a sample culled from IMDB:
Matthew: I have a question for you real quick. What did you think of my demo? Did you get it?
Aldous Snow: I was gonna listen to that, but then, um, I just carried on living my life.
Surfing Instructor: I like her red hair. I wonder if the carpet matches her pubes.
Sarah Marshall: Remember how we thought the killer masturbated before commiting his crimes?
Detective Hunter Rush: Yes?
Sarah Marshall: Take a look...
Detective Hunter Rush: ...Looks like where he's going he'll need to know how to masturbate.
Aldous Snow: [holding a single sandal] I've lost a shoe... have you seen it anywhere? Excuse me, missus, I've lost a shoe... like this one. It's like this one's fellow... it's sort of the exact opposite in fact of that - not an evil version but just, you know, a shoe like this... but for the other foot. Otherwise I'd have two right...
Peter Bretter: [singing] Everybody hates you. Everybody wishes that you were dead. Peter you suck. Peter you suck. Peter your music is fucking terrible. Peter you suck, Peter you suck. You don't do anything of value. Peter you suck. Go write some music. But instead you sit and write these bullshit songs. It's so self-loathing. Go see a psychiatrist. I hate the psychiatrist. Go see one anyway.
On a personal note, I must say that as somebody who suffers from extreme self-criticism, that last bit really hits home. It does it in a good way though, as it lets me know that I'm not alone in those kinds of feelings.
3. Paul Rudd - Between this and I Love You, Man, Paul Rudd makes it to my man-crush list. Every moment with him in this film makes me smile. He doesn't even have that big of a part, as he's simply the surfing instructor, but basically everything he says is fantastic. There's also a moment where you see him teaching a couple how to surf, and he doesn't say anything but the pose he makes and the look on his face are just priceless. I think that I'll give "Koonu" the last word:
When life gives you lemons, just say 'Fuck the lemons,' and bail.