Forgetting Sarah Marshall is one of my favorite movies and has been from the moment I first saw in theaters as a sophomore in college. Thus, Get Him to the Greek was a must-see for me when it was released in 2010. It is a spin-off that capitalizes on one of the funniest elements of Forgetting Sarah Marshall: the odd couple comic chemistry between Russell Brand and Jonah Hill.
The end result is far weirder than my expectations. The more layers you peel away, the weirder this movie seems. To me, the most baffling aspect of the movie is the total lack of involvement of Jason Segel, the auteur and star of Forgetting Sarah Marshall. When I first learned this, I wondered if Judd Apatow (producer) or Nicholas Stoller (writer and director) were beefing with Segel. Why else would Segel not even lend a cameo to the spinoff of his baby? But the feud theory doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny: Segel appeared in Apatow’s This is 40 two years after Get Him to the Greek. And Stoller co-wrote the script of Segel’s concurrent project, the 2011 Muppets movie. Most likely Segel was just busy with the nine films he appeared in from 2009-2012, i.e. films whose productions plausibly lined up with this one. But it still feels intentional and strange that Segel is nowhere to be found other than “Characters created by” and, bizarrely, lyrics credits on the soundtrack. There’s a commentary track on the Get Him to the Greek DVD that likely sheds some light on the matter, but I’m not quite curious enough to go further down the rabbit hole.
The strangeness of the film doesn’t end with the behind-the-scenes credits. Even the premise of the film is a bit perplexing. Out of the gate, Get Him to the Greek makes an odd decision: On the one hand, it leans into its spinoff structure, giving us a “how did we get here” intro; but on the other, it re-casts Hill as a totally new character. This is a head-scratcher. Hill’s new character is at odds with his character in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. What made the dynamic work there was Hill’s sweaty enthusiasm clashing with Brand’s aloofness. By making Hill a fusty office worker instead of a overly-friendly waiter, it’s a new dynamic, so why bother with a spinoff in the first place?
And while Forgetting Sarah Marshall has some serious dramatic material, Get Him to the Greek is downright dark, perhaps the bleakest Judd Apatow film other than Funny People. The main thematic consideration is the nature of drug addiction and hedonism when pursuing one’s dreams and aspirations. I would bet quite a bit of money that Stoller or someone he’s close to has faced addiction problems: The reflection that takes place by characters in the film clearly comes from a personal place. And even if it (unsurprisingly) ends up on the side of sobriety, it also shows a lot of empathy to addicts. That is empathy, not sympathy — certain scenes make a case that the recklessness of intoxication is worth it for the liberation and serenity that a good high can bring.
Oh yeah, it’s a comedy. So is it a funny movie? Yes! It’s nowhere near as hysterical as Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but then again, as mentioned, it’s minus Segel, who was one of the funniest actors in the world circa 2010. But there are lots of good jokes and performances. Hill is terrific as a straight man (and what’s funnier than a good straight man?), though the MVP is Sean Combs as Hill’s boss. Rose Byrne brings some electric energy as the ex-lover of Aldous Snow (Brand). Brand isn’t quite as funny as I’ve seen him, as the narrative role of troubled protagonist basically necessitates he ditch the light touch of his funniest performances (e.g. Forgetting Sarah Marshall).
It’s a messy film, with beats that drag on longer than expected and run out of control. Elisabeth Moss plays the girlfriend of Hill’s character, and there’s a gag about a potential threesome between Hill, Brand, and Moss that goes much, much further than I ever expected. The climactic set piece is a trip on a drug called a “Jeffrey,” its mild name somehow making the entire scene funnier.
One nice touch is the soundtrack, which includes fifteen songs parodying the self-seriousness and laborious metaphors of rockers like Bono. None of the numbers are as good as “Inside of You” from Forgetting Sarah Marshall (let alone “Dracula’s Lament”), but they’re amusing and catchy enough — plausible pop facsimiles. Rose Byrne even sings in two of them.
Get Him to the Greek is no all-timer like the film it spun off from, but it’s funny and adventurous enough to be a satisfying comedy from the Apatow glory years.