Saturday, June 12, 2010

Get Him to the Greek

This was originally posted at

Someone needs to have an intervention for Jonah Hill. He looks like hell. His friends should sit him down and show him a career retrospective of Chris Farley as a cautionary tale. It isn’t just that he has gotten really big, he was always a stout young fella, but he does not look well in Get Him to the Greek, a loose sequel to 2008’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall, where he once again teams up with director Nicholas Stoller, producers Judd Apatow and Jason Segel, and costar Russell Brand.

Brand reprises his role as over-indulgent rock star Aldous Snow, who is recently off the wagon with a vengeance. Hill plays Aaron Green, not his role from the first movie, a low-level, idealistic record company employee. Right away you can tell that he’s in the business for the love because he has a wall of records in his apartment. This, of course, is cinematic shorthand for “this character listens to college radio”, a fact that is shortly reinforced when he name drops Mars Volta. Apparently the t-shirt and poster on the wall weren’t enough.

Aaron wants to enjoy the fringe benefits of his job, like a wild after party at Jay Z’s house, where his coworker, Aziz Ansari (who I like for the moment, but who I know that I will hate in six months after he is in every movie—see the cases of Seth Rogan and Jack Black, who I also used to enjoy, but now make me cringe) winds up with glitter on his dick. Instead of partying and having fun, Aaron is stuck at home with his perky doctor girlfriend Daphne (Elisabeth Moss), who just wants to sit on the couch and watch “like a hundred hours of Gossip Girl”. He puts up a pleasant fa├žade, but is completely miserable in his home life.

Puff Daddy, who, like The Rock, I will never be able to call his given name, plays Sergio, the head of the record company, looking to increase profits. He gives Aaron the chance to fulfill a lifelong dream, to meet his idol, Aldous Snow, and escort him from London to Los Angeles for a concert. Daphne, however, wants to move to Seattle to follow her own dream. Aaron acts like a jackass, and they break up right before he leaves.

All of this build up is tedious and takes way too long. It’s heavy handed character development that delays the main narrative thrust, and most enjoyable part of the movie, the drug and alcohol fueled trek across the globe. The subplots with Aaron’s relationship with Daphne, and the parallel story with Snow and his ex, are forced and overly cumbersome. It is unneeded sentimentality, and even though he hooks up with multiple girls on his trip, he has some sort of epiphany that isn’t based on anything real, and tries to win her back. The emotion isn’t earned, and watching it, you ask why. He wasn’t happy, she wasn’t happy, they were emotionally dead, and despite what the movie tries to tell you, it feels formulaic, and like the wrong decision.

This is where Apatow’s hand is most clearly visible. Apparently it isn’t enough for a movie to just be funny, it has to be touching at the end. It worked in The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Superbad, but it is really distracting in Get Him to the Greek. Forgetting Sarah Marshall is earnest and sweet, which is where it derives most of its charm, and they should have left it in that movie instead of trying to cram it in here. The happy ending feels obligatory.

The movie is most fun during the hazy party montages. Hill and Brand show off a frenetic energy as they bounce around the screen like carnival visions of excess. Their chemistry carries them through a series of excellent adventures, which are offset by more low-key moments, usually where the two are in transit from city to city, and further punctuated by a couple of dark scenes. Aldous going through heroin withdrawals reminds Aaron, and the audience, of the brutal, ugly side of this seemingly light-hearted lifestyle of endless partying. It is rough, and he looks like he has been slapped across the face when he realizes what’s going on.

Hill does what he does well, play a chubby smart ass with a good heart (except for the fact that he’s generally a prick to his girlfriend). He follows the exact same arc as his character in Superbad, so he’s not stretching himself at all here, but he’s personable and fun to watch, and that’s what people want to see.

From what I’ve seen of Brand, in movies, stand-up, and his hosting duties, he seems to be a one trick pony, but thus far in his career that one trick is pretty good, so I’m still on board. He is one of those actors that you look at and wonder if he is just playing himself, if he is playing a persona he created, or if he is actually acting. Either way, he plays a drug addled rock star with a certain zest, but, like I mentioned earlier with Aziz Ansari, the act is going to wear thin before too long. And “white African space Christ” is kind of brilliant.

And Puffy is also good. I heard he was good in Monster’s Ball, but I’ve never seen him act before, so the experience was strange to me. Sure his character is partially a spoof of himself, or at least of his public persona, but he is solid, and obviously having a lot of fun on screen. After he shows up in Las Vegas, it turns into the best scene of the entire movie, and at one point he tells the guy from the Neptunes that he looks like Carlton from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, a reference that will always earn points from me.

Ultimately, Get Him to the Greek is fun, but seriously flawed. The core of the movie is solid, but there are far too many superfluous subplots and asides that are a waste of time. Most of the emotional weight is strained and artificial, to say the least, and the entire film should have been much more streamlined. Seriously, the lone Napster joke isn’t enough to justify the amount of screen time given to fucking Lars Ulrich. But still, if you’re into any of the movies this crew has made, it is worth watching.

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