The Films of Nicholas Stoller
Forgetting Sarah Marshall (October 17/08)
Though it's been infused with some of the hoariest cliches that the romantic comedy genre has to offer, Forgetting Sarah Marshall ultimately comes off as an affable piece of work that benefits from the uniformly engaging performances and inclusion of several genuinely hilarious bits of comedic silliness. The film casts Jason Segel as Peter Bretter, a TV-show composer who embarks on a solo trip to Hawaii after being dumped by his famous girlfriend (Kristen Bell's Sarah Marshall) - though his spontaneous vacation is inevitably ruined after Sarah and her new beau (Russell Brand's Aldous Snow) arrive on the scene. There's little doubt that Segel's relatable work as the central character proves instrumental in securing Forgetting Sarah Marshall's mild success, as the actor (and screenwriter) does a superb job of infusing Peter's attempts at moving on post-separation with an unexpected degree of authenticity. It's subsequently fairly easy to initially overlook Segel's almost egregious reliance on most of the tropes that one has come to associate with films of this ilk, although - admittedly - the inclusion of an entirely needless third-act fake break-up will test the patience of even the most easygoing viewer. The colorful supporting cast - which boasts such charismatic performers as Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, and Bill Hader - effectively holds one's interest for the duration of Forgetting Sarah Marshall's overlong running time (this is, undoubtedly, the sort of endeavor that should've topped out at 90 minutes), with the end result an agreeable romcom that's certainly a cut above most recent similarly-themed efforts.
Get Him to the Greek
Featuring characters from Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek follows record executive Aaron Green (Jonah Hill) as he's assigned the task of accompanying hard-partying musician Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) to a pivotal gig at Los Angeles' Greek Theater - with the simple journey inevitably fraught with complications and mishaps. There's little doubt that Get Him to the Greek fares best in its early stages, as filmmaker Nicholas Stoller has infused the proceedings with a rapid-fire pace that's enhanced by the compelling performances and sporadically hilarious screenplay. Hill's surprisingly strong work is matched by an impressive supporting cast that includes Rose Byrne, Elisabeth Moss, and Colm Meaney, yet it's Sean Combs' scene-stealing turn as Aaron's aggressive boss that ultimately stands as the film's most engaging attribute. It's also worth noting that the episodic structure is initially not as problematic as one might've anticipated, as Stoller effectively offers up a number of compelling and laugh-out-loud funny interludes that perpetuate the movie's affable atmosphere (ie a botched trip to The Today Show). It's only as Get Him to the Greek passes its midway point that it begins to seriously run out of steam, however, with the emphasis on a seemingly endless series of party scenes slowly but surely wearing the viewer down (ie Aaron and Aldous wreak havoc in Vegas, Aaron and Aldous drink absinthe and go nuts, etc, etc). The progressively tedious vibe is exacerbated by the head-scratching inclusion of several dramatic encounters between the various characters, as Aaron attempts to reconcile with his estranged girlfriend and Aldous is forced to confront both the father that abandoned him years ago and the child that he thought was his son but really isn't. It's consequently not surprising to note that Get Him to the Greek ultimately overstays its welcome in a manner that's nothing short of breathtaking, with the end result a promising endeavor that inevitably establishes itself as the worst example of the post-Apatow buddy comedy.
The Five-Year Engagement
It's ultimately sheer, unreasonable overlength that triggers The Five-Year Engagement's lamentable downfall, as the film is simply unable to sustain the viewer's interest for the duration of its needlessly epic 124 minute running time - which is a shame, certainly, given the promise of its opening half hour and the charisma of its assorted stars. The movie, for the most part, details the ups and downs of the relationship between Jason Segel's Tom Solomon and Emily Blunt's Violet Barnes, with the pair's decision to get married inevitably complicated by a variety of problems and obstacles (Violet's decision to accept a stint at the University of Michigan, for example, leaves Tom depressed and lonely). Filmmaker Nicholas Stoller, working from a script cowritten with Segel, opens The Five-Year Engagement with a sweet and genuinely romantic sequence detailing Tom's bungled proposal to Violet, with the scene, which is certainly heightened by Segel and Blunt's affable work, paving the way for an entertainingly episodic first act that's rife with amusing cameo appearances and laugh-out-loud hilarious bits of comedy. The increasingly uneven bent of Stoller and Segel's screenplay is, as such, initially rather easy to overlook, although it's clear right from the get-go that the scripters have curiously peppered the narrative with a number of palpable pointless interludes (eg Tom's attempts at hunting with a friendly neighbor). It's only as the film marches into its laugh-free and incongruously dark midsection (eg Tom becomes a bearded survivalist? Really?) that The Five-Year Engagement begins to morph into a progressively tedious piece of work, with the less-than-engrossing vibe compounded by the third-act introduction of what feels like the longest fake break-up ever committed to celluloid. There's little doubt that the peppy, thoroughly upbeat finale is subsequently drained of its impact, and it's finally impossible to label The Five-Year Engagement as another more than yet another in a long line of disappointing, hopelessly sloppy post-Apatow relationship comedies.
Though Nicholas Stoller's shortest movie to date, Neighbors is as unfocused and undisciplined as anything within the director's seriously erratic filmography - with the movie's affable first half giving way to a final half hour that's nothing short of interminable. The narrative follows married couple Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) as their peaceful existence is shattered by the arrival of a frat house next door, with Mac and Kelly's increasing exasperation with the situation eventually paving the way for an all-out war between the two residences. It's a familiar yet workable premise that is, at the outset, employed to exceedingly entertaining effect, as Stoller, working from a screenplay by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O'Brien, establishes an agreeably loose atmosphere that's heightened by several laugh-out-loud moments and a series of charismatic performances. (Rogen and Byrne's chemistry together is certainly palpable, while Zac Efron, cast as the frat house's smug leader, more than holds his own against his comedically experienced costars.) There does reach a point, however, at which Neighbors begins to aggressively run out of steam, with the film's second half adopting exactly the sort of lackadaisical feel that's plagued most of Stoller's output - as the focus shifts to the various problems experienced by both sides of the battle. It's just not interesting, ultimately, and it is, as a result, more and more difficult to work up any enthusiasm for the climactic blow-out - which finally does confirm Neighbors' place as yet another sporadically hilarious yet hopelessly uneven comedy from Stoller.
Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising
A sequel that ultimately falls right in line with its lackluster predecessor, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising follows Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne) as their efforts to sell their house are threatened by a rowdy sorority that's just moved in next door. It's clear that Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising's biggest issue is its eventual transformation into a remake of the first film, which is disappointing, to be sure, given the potential afforded by the often laugh-out-loud opening half hour. (There is, for example, a hilarious sequence involving Mac and Kelly's clueless encounter with their exasperated real-estate agent, played by Liz Cackowski.) Filmmaker Nicholas Stoller, working from a script he cowrote with four other individuals (!), slowly-but-surely eradicates the viewer's good will, however, as Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, once those aforementioned sorority girls arrive on the scene, begins essentially copying the plot of Neighbors to an almost stunning extent (ie the movie legitimately does, at times, feel like a beat-for-beat redo). It is, as such, not surprising to note that the film grows increasingly erratic and uneven as it progresses, with the tedious emphasis on the opposing sides' prank war certainly exacerbating the less-than-engrossing atmosphere. (There's little doubt, as well, that Stoller's irritating hand-held aesthetic does the picture no favors.) By the time the unusually dreary final stretch rolls around, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rises has squandered its few positive attributes to become a typically underwhelming Stoller vehicle that wastes an impressively talented cast.