Of all the comedies to come out of the Judd Apatow factory in the last five years -- and it is, in fact, a factory -- Forgetting Sarah Marshall remains my favorite (though Apatow neither wrote nor directed the film; he was a producer only). It's funny and sweet and emotionally honest in a way that few comedies are, and it's the only one I find myself able to watch over and over and over again. A big part of its success is owed to the scene-stealing performance by British comedian Russell Brand as foolish/pretentious rock star Aldous Snow. Now, Brand-as-Snow gets his very own movie, Get Him to the Greek, written and directed by Nicholas Stoller, the man responsible for Sarah Marshall. As a star-making role for Russell Brand, Greek is a success. As a celebration of bad behavior, it's a hoot. As a movie, though, it's good-not-great. That I didn't like it as much as Sarah Marshall should come as no surprise. That's setting the bar pretty high.
Brand reprises his role as Aldous Snow, lead singer of the band Infant Sorrow, who's in both a professional and personal crisis. His most recent single, "African Child," has been dubbed the "worst thing to happen to Africa since Apartheid." He's just split with his girlfriend, Jackie (a surprisingly funny Rose Byrne) and has fallen off the wagon -- hard -- after seven years of sobriety.
Enter Jonah Hill's Aaron Green, a low-level record executive tasked by his boss (an even more surprisingly funny Sean "P-Diddy" Combs) to travel to London and pick up Snow, then babysit him for a few days as the pair travels to the Greek Theater in Los Angeles for an Infant Sorrow anniversary show. It's a task that sounds a lot easier than it actually proves to be, as the journey is filled with drunken debauchery, random hook-ups, strategically placed drug stashes and much, much more. Getting to the Greek Theater on time isn't so much the problem as getting there in one piece.
Stoller is forever generous in giving his characters -- even Aldous Snow -- moments of real emotional honesty. It's part of what I liked about Sarah Marshall, but it doesn't work quite as well here. In giving him more dimensions, the movie robs Aldous Snow of what made him so charming in Sarah Marshall. I appreciate Get Him to the Greek's willingness to round out its characters (and to go surprisingly dark at times, given the fact that it's dealing with a drug addict), but it can be difficult to have it both ways. In one moment, we're meant to be laughing at all of the debauchery and bad behavior; the next, we're reminded that it comes from a place of real pain, and we should be sympathizing with that. It makes it increasingly hard to laugh as the movie goes on, even though there's a whole lot of funny stuff going on.
Like a lot of movies from the Apatow assembly line, Get Him to the Greek feels, at times, like a gutted movie. Because the Apatow movies rely so heavily on improvisation, they can sometimes hit the wall when it comes to delivering a cohesive narrative. Greek is no exception; it moves in fits and starts, transitioning from set piece to set piece with thinly-written scenes of purely expository dialogue that just barely propels the story forward. That's a big problem with the movie, which wants to do nothing more than hang out with these characters but is always being hampered by a ticking clock, constantly reminding us to keep things moving along. Unfortunately, that device can sometimes stop the movie from building proper momentum -- even the sequences that show the characters at their raunchiest and rowdiest are done in rapid-fire montage. What should be a really funny snowballing into craziness is nothing more than a highlight reel.
Of course, I've gone on and on about what disappoints me about Get Him to the Greek without talking about what works. Jonah Hill and Russell Brand have good chemistry together, creating characters that are smart and verbal no matter how affected their faculties may be. The supporting cast is excellent as well, including a very funny Sean Combs, Elizabeth Moss (who should consider being in every movie) and a series of comedians including Aziz Ansari, Kristen Schaal, Nick Kroll, Ellie Kemper and more. I liked Get Him to the Greek, but I really wanted to love it. Aldous Snow is meant to be a supporting character, remaining outside the action and commenting on it in his own special way. He's not meant to be the whole show. Brand's got the goods, but Get Him to the Greek can't quite figure out what kind of clown Aldous Snow is. The crying on the inside kind, I guess.
- Get Him to the Greek is Rated R for strong sexual content and drug use throughout and pervasive language.
- Release Date: 6/4/10
- Running Time: 109 minutes
- Studio: Universal