Thanks to a messy break-up with fellow musician Jackie Q (Rose Byrne) and a disastrous attempt to cover real-world issues on his last album, debauched rock-and-roller Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) is in both a personal and career funk, until record company stooge and lifetime fan Aaron Green (Jonah Hill) suggests to his boss Sergio (Sean Combs) at Aldous' label, Pinnacle, that they put on a show commemorating the 10th anniversary of his infamous performance at the Greek Theater in L.A. All Aaron has to do is get Aldous from the UK to the US without either of them getting arrested or violently injured (by anyone, up to and including themselves), but it's a task easier said than done.
It took me two years to finally see Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the film that Get Him to the Greek is spun off from. I liked the trailer, but something about the Manic Pixie Dream Girl plot and my non-interest (not disinterest, but lack of any pro-interest) in Jason Segel kept me from pulling that trigger. Maybe that ship had simply sailed, but I didn't feel like I had missed out on very much: it was basically a few big heaping handfuls of great one-liners strapped to a bland, predictable romantic comedy structure. Greek is basically the same formula, but the familiar structure is a little less bland (infused with the nature of celebrity and insecurity), and the great one-liners are much, much funnier.
There's a slow tidal wave of hatred on the internet flowing in Russell Brand's direction, and I'm not sure I understand why. I don't follow the guy's stand-up career (I've only ever seen him in these two movies), so maybe that's part of it, but I like him. At the very least, he does more than coast; while writer/director Nicholas Stoller probably wrote to Brand's strengths and personality, you get the sense that the actor is drawing from personal experience as he paints Snow as a manic, attention-hungry mess with the occasional good intention. That's not to say that Get Him to the Greek is a big pity party for Brand himself using Snow as a proxy, but it seemed clear to me that the comedian feels a bit of sympathy to the rocker character, especially as Aldous teeters on the edge of total self-destruction. Stoller and Brand use this relative realism (for a goofy comedy, anyway) to inject hints of genuine abandon that I really appreciated; the potential for success or failure when it comes to achieving the titular goal turns out to be closer than expected, and it elevates the experience.
Jonah Hill, on the other hand, is a bit of a blank slate in the passenger seat, although it's as good an attempt at ever-so-slightly expanding his range as Rogen made in last year's Funny People -- a good thing, in case that isn't clear. I don't know if viewers will be confused by the fact that he's playing someone other than his bitter Forgetting Sarah Marshall character, but unlike Hill's usual dickish smartass characters, Aaron Green is a desperate and somewhat introverted person. Not only is he legitimately starstruck to be in the presence of a musician he's idolized for most of his life, he's also in a state of constant panic thanks to constant pressure from his boss and an inadvertent ultimatum from his sweet but perpetually exhausted girlfriend. The laughs in several of the movie's scenes of debauchery (specifically, a hilarious sequence at The Today Show, and a bad trip to Vegas) are fueled by the fact that Aaron is only doing it because he thinks he has to, for the sake of both Aldous' health and his own career. The climactic moment in the third act when Aaron's hand is finally forced starts out a bit rocky (I'm not sure I buy the setup), but his decision of when (and how) to finally act is genius.
On top of these two lead roles, Sean Combs seriously attempts to run off with the movie using a deadly comic combination: the willingness to do anything, and an impenetrable poker face. I'm no expert on the man's music, and I can't think of anything else I've seen him in, but he's just so phenomenally funny, the movie could have forgotten about Brand and Hill and turned into a one-man show (Aziz Ansari, if you're listening, please put Sean as Sergio, or Sean as anyone, into your Randy movie). If I could get a quote on the poster, I'd like to call it the funniest performance I've ever seen by a rapper in a major motion picture. In writing this review, I spent a few minutes considering whether or not I should hint at any of his madness, and I really can't bring myself to do it. Byrne is also good in what screen time she has as Jackie Q. A call between her and Aldous (and Lars Ulrich) successfully walks the line between sweet and crude, and there's a music video that falls firmly in the latter category.
It's hard to say how well Greek will hold up in the long run. That shaky structure seems like it might be a problem when it comes to repeat viewings. In the annals of Apatow productions, it's a minor classic as opposed to a full-fledged winner. Still, it has the verve and wit to put some really demented, recklessly funny things on screen, things that should sustain its reputation past lesser comedies' expiration dates. Plus, it has P. Diddy. If only the whole movie was as good as he is.
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