Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Director : Nicholas Stoller
Screenplay : Jason Segel
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2008
Stars : Jason Segel (Peter Bretter), Kristen Bell (Sarah Marshall), Mila Kunis (Rachel Jansen), Russell Brand (Aldous Snow), Bill Hader (Brian Bretter), Liz Cackowski (Liz Bretter), Maria Thayer (Wyoma), Jack McBrayer (Darald), Taylor Wily (Kemo), Da'Vone McDonald (Dwayne the Bartender), Steve Landesberg (Dr. Rosenbaum), Jonah Hill (Matthew), Paul Rudd (Chuck)
There probably won't be a person in the audience for Forgetting Sarah Marshall who hasn't been dumped at least once in his or her life, some in more humiliating fashion than others, but there will probably be few to whom it happened quite the way it does to Peter Bretter (Jason Segel) at the beginning of the film: butt-naked. Peter is a musician-composer whose day job is writing the score for a CSI-like cop drama that stars his beautiful girlfriend, Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell), who unceremoniously dumps him in favor of Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), a skuzzy-sexy British rock star who long since ran out of bedposts to notch. Peter, on the other hand, is the very definition of a typical guy: Not exactly a slouch, but no one's idea of an Adonis either, he's just normal. In this respect, he's a new development in the universe of likeable guys from the Judd Apatow comedy-producing machine, which up until now has favored 40-year-old virgins with toy-collection fetishes, excessively verbal teenagers, and twentysomething dope-smoking slackers who still manage to land Katherine Heigl.
Directed by first-timer Nicholas Stoller, another veteran of the Apatow-produced television series Undeclared, and written by star Jason Segel, Forgetting Sarah Marshall follows the basic formula of two parts raunch to every one part sweet, but avoids Apatow's mistake of sometimes going too long. Forgetting Sarah Marshall runs a bit longer than the premise would suggest it should, but that two-to-one formula keeps it afloat, as does the perfectly pitched performances by all the actors, who sell what is, by any stretch of the imagination, a contrived scenario.
After Peter is dumped, he descends into a shame spiral that a few bouts of casual sex only inflame. Encouraged by his sister (Liz Cackowski) and brother-in-law (Bill Hader) to get away for a while, Peter decides to take a trip to Hawaii to clear his head. Unfortunately, he chooses to go to a resort that Sarah had mentioned, and guess who happens to be there in the same resort: Sarah and her new man. Thus, Peter's head-clearing getaway turns into a nightmare situation in which everywhere he turns he is faced with evidence of his relationship failures, which explains why he spends so much time curled up in the fetal position wailing. Luckily, there are beautiful and more genuine women to be found in Hawaii, particularly Rachel Jansen (Mila Kunis), the down-to-earth cutey who works the front desk and has a soft spot for Peter's misery. There is also an amusing cast of supporting characters, including a ditzy surf instructor played by Paul Rudd and a socially awkward waiter played by Jonah Hill, to keep things interesting.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall doesn't break any new ground, but what it does, it does extremely well. Segel, best known at this point for his role on the sitcom How I Met Your Mother, has the great comedic ability to milk his hangdog vulnerability for laughs without becoming simply pathetic. His full-frontal nudity at the beginning of the movie establishes his willingness, ala Will Ferrell, to get laughs from his absolute physical ordinariness in a world of chiseled stars and models, but it's also a great metaphor for the film's overriding approach to comedy: naked and painful.
At its heart, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is about heartbreak, heartache, and all the other emotions that most men spend the majority of their energy trying to repress in an effort to appear strong. There is something both liberating and absolutely hilarious in watching Peter have to field a phone call from the front desk asking about the “wailing woman” in his room the night before knowing it was him. Of course, at the end of the day the film gives us the Hollywood male fantasy that, when a beautiful woman dumps you, there's another beautiful (and this time sensitive, caring, and understanding) woman waiting to take her place, but the story's pleasure is in wading through the agony to get there.
Copyright ©2008 James Kendrick
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