I’ve concluded that one’s enjoyment of a movie has a lot to do with expectations, and Get Him to the Greek is an example of this. At first glance it looks like a mindless Judd Apatow production, a portrait of arrested development on the pop-rock circuit. Netflix recommended I make a double feature out of it and pair it with 30 Minutes or Less, which I saw the day before and hated, or Accepted, which I had also seen and disliked less. But the movie turns out to be more, by degrees, than either of its cousins.
On the one hand, it is what the poster suggests, a film about a hedonistic rock star and his slightly clueless friend who indulge in all sorts of irresponsible behavior that writer-director Nicholas Stoller then twists into something more juvenile. It’s not just drug use; it’s a baggie of heroin up the bum that’s popped out like a pellet of baby powder. On the other hand, it also dips into more meditative territory, allowing its characters room for self-reflection. This surprised me, so much so that I found myself imaging a better indie version of the film, maybe something along the lines of meandering John Carney picture (Once, Begin Again, Sing Street).
For better or worse, it is not that. Apatow and his stars are firmly in the driver’s seat and steer it in the direction you’d expect. British radio host and comedian Russell Brand reprises his role in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and plays Aldous Snow, a rock star at the top of his game when he releases a song called “African Child.” An ugly anthem of white liberal guilt and white savior complex, the song is a critical and commercial failure and sends Aldous into a downward spiral. He breaks up with his partner, Jackie Q (Rose Byrne), relapses into his various addictions, and stops making music.
Cue A&R man Aaron Green (Hill). He works at a record company headed by Sergio Roma (Sean Combs), who is as emotionally abusive as he is clueless about nurturing talent. Aaron hopes to earn points and Sergio’s good favor by proposing a tenth anniversary concert for Aldous at the Greek Theater, an event that will mark the singer’s iconic performance there and set the stage for his comeback. But first, Aaron must coax his reluctant star out of his London penthouse.
Once he does, the movie is a road trip of sorts, a plane trip really, and each leg is marked by escalating chaos that threatens to derail the concert. There’s a visit to the Today show that goes wildly offscript, as evidenced by Paul Krugman’s (yes, that Paul Krugman) bewildered look. A detour to Las Vegas similarly goes haywire. Aldous tries to make amends with his estranged father (Colm Meaney) while Aaron gets kite-high and inadvertently torches a fur-lined lounge. Those are the tamer moments though. The film also does its best to provoke with a threesome that ends in stereotypical homophobic anxiety. Also Aaron gets raped, and it’s a joke.
These are the reasons I’m not generally a fan of Apatow and company, and I suppose why others are. There’s a great film in here about a musician seeking redemption and a talent scout seeking his way. It’s not an original storyline, but these are two characters who, when stripped of the excess, reveal some depth. Brand is a revelation to me. I’d only known him to be a provocative radio and entertainment personality, someone who appeared on end-of-the-year quiz shows in Britain. He readily deploys that persona but also shows restraint and doesn’t play his character’s more touching moments with any cynicism. Some of my favorite scenes are when Aldous tries to reconcile with Jackie Q (Byrne clearly having a ball as a chavy pop star) and his son, proving that indeed, rockers are real people. Hill has similar moments; Aaron needs to figure out if he’s willing to sacrifice his dignity and his girlfriend (Elisabeth Moss) now that he has his dream job. It’s too bad then that the emotional arc of the story is propped up by an overabundance of frat house humor.
“Little Bird” by Infant Sorrow (Russell Brand):
“Ring Around the Rosie” by Jackie Q (Rose Byrne), just NSFW:
Prod: Judd Apatow, Joshua Blake, David Bushell, Rodney Rothman, Nicholas Stoller
Dir: Nicholas Stoller
Writer: Nicholas Stoller
Cast: Jonah Hill, Russell Brand, Elisabeth Moss, Rose Byrne, Sean Combs, Colm Meaney
Time: 109 min
Country: United States