Russell Brand, in 'Get Him to the Greek'

Dir. Nicholas Stoller
(2010, R, 109 min)
★ ★

Get Him to the Greek is the filmic equivalent of a falling-down drunk: it’s fun early on, then loses control, makes an embarrassing spectacle of itself, and leaves us feeling a little tired and sad. Its subject matter might be good material for a serious drama — the storylines and characters skew surprisingly dark — but because it’s aiming for slapstick farce it fails. The emotional scenes work because they allow the film to be reflective about what it’s showing us. The comic scenes mostly don’t, because they’re founded in behavior that is pitiable and grim. It’s the story of a man with a severe substance-abuse problem, but the film didn’t need to emulate one.

Russell Brand’s performance is the film’s highlight. He plays Aldous Snow, a feckless rock star first seen as a supporting character in a film I admired, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, where he was brash, but refreshingly frank and intelligent about his behavior. In Greek, he takes center stage, and Brand proves capable of taking the character wherever the screenplay asks him to go, from the absurdity of an ill-advised, Africa-themed music video to the menace of a heroin addict desperate for his next fix. The actor seems to understand the character better than the film does.

Jonah Hill co-stars as Aaron Green, an up-and-comer at an LA record company — a different character from the Aldous-fawning waiter he played in Sarah Marshall. What Snow puts him through is generally humiliating, frequently malicious. Brand’s Aldous is too self-aware to be considered just casually inconsiderate. His rebellions against Aaron — partying all night, delaying flights, forcing him to perform illegal acts — play like a campaign of abuse, an assertion of rock-idol dominance over anyone who presumes to control him. Aaron is an eager young man trying to do his job. Aldous sets him up to fail, it seems, just because he can.

Director Nicholas Stoller, who made a good impression with Sarah Marshall, his directing debut, is much more erratic the second time around. His timing feels slow early on and his jokes lumbering. Aldous’s drug-and-booze-fueled escapades go dark to the point that they’re depressing, and his big comic scenes are too scattered. One of the film’s lowest points is a party fueled by a drug cocktail called Jeffrey; breakable objects are thrown, people yell, chase, jump around — the comic strategy seems to have been to have stuff happen, loudly. An even lower point comes later, in a three-way sex scene that comes out of nowhere, with no situational or character logic to give it any basis for humor.

Sarah Marshall was written by its star Jason Segel. Stoller wrote Greek himself without as much of a sense of caring about his characters. Here they’re fodder for gags, like Sean Combs as a blowhard record executive, Carla Gallo as a ditzy stripper, and Rose Byrne as a provocative pop singer who is like a cross between Amy Winehouse and Britney Spears. Elisabeth Moss gets the most flattering female role, for what it’s worth, playing Aaron’s live-in girlfriend, but we never really get to know her, and more than once her personality changes on a dime. The film improves greatly towards the end, when the main character decides to sober up — so does the movie. We leave the theater feeling not like we’ve been on a bender, but like we’ve just accompanied a friend on his bender, and are walking him home. We put him to bed and feel relieved.