Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: R for sexual content, language and some graphic nudity
Running time: 112 min. - unrated version runs 118 min.
Cast: Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, Russell Brand, Bill Hader, Liz Cackowski, Jonah Hill, Paul Rudd, Maria Thayer, Jack McBrayer, Da'Vone McDonald, William Baldwin
Cameo: Steve Landesberg, Billy Bush, Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig,
Director: Nicholas Stoller
Screenplay: Jason Segel
Review published January 2, 2009
Though Judd Apatow (Walk Hard, Superbad) only gets credited as producer of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, his fingerprints can be found all over this very Apatow-esque film written by star "Freaks and Geeks" alum Jason Segel (Knocked Up, SLC Punk) himself. It is laugh-out-loud funny, potently raunchy, self-deprecating, has an undercurrent of sweetness, gives all of its best lines to the supporting cast, and features the hottest babes who find themselves irresistibly attracted to average Joes.
Segel plays Hollywood television composer Peter Bretter, who happens to be the lucky guy in a long-term relationship with the star of the CSI-esque show he is working on (hilariously, "Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime"), a blonde spitfire named Sarah Marshall (Bell, Pulse). Sarah breaks up with Peter at his most vulnerable moment, informing him that she's found someone else, causing him to descend into a tailspin of misery and depression. Under the advice of his friends, he tries to find someone to replace the hole in his heart left by Sarah, but finds the cavalcade of meaningless sex partners only makes him more melancholy. He's a relationship kind of guy.
Peter decides that sulking around his apartment isn't doing himself a bit of good, so he heads to the popular getaway of Hawaii, opting for the poshest hotel on the island. It doesn't help; it happens to be the place where Sarah is also staying, and with her new boyfriend, a Brit rock star named Aldous Snow (Brand, Bedtime Stories). Peter tries everything he can to still enjoy his stay, including surfing lessons, snorkeling, and evenings out with the hotel's kindhearted customer service desk clerk, Rachel (Kunis, Get Over It).
The male-centric romantic comedy premise is standard stuff, as we've seen the jilted boyfriend go through bouts of self-flagellation too many times to count in the genre. Even Apatow's Knocked Up had similar leanings of a slacker who finds himself unlucky in love. What Forgetting Sarah Marshall lacks in freshness in plot it more than makes up for in amusing situations, smart (and raunchy) dialogue, and a cast of side characters (Apatow regulars Paul Rudd (I Could Never Be Your Woman), Jack McBrayer (Talladega Nights), Jonah Hill (Horton Hears a Who!) and Bill Hader (Superbad) provide some choice comic infusion) that enhance the comedic mix in ways that don't detract from the protagonist's search for inner happiness. However, it's really in the casting of comedic actors that this comedy takes off, with an ensemble known for ad-libbing funny material that plays off of the situation at hand, rather than becoming a side show attraction. Russell Brand infuses his character with a seeming paradox of being a likeable arrogant bastard, too self-centered to notice his effect on those around him.
Though the storyline may not be too firmly rooted in a world most of us can identify with, most of us have felt what it's like to be completely taken aback by a break-up we didn't see coming. Laughs aren't necessarily had at seeing a man distraught, but Segel still makes them somewhat funny, as he does such things as cry over a container his ex bought him to keep his cereal fresh. Momentum builds slowly, but it hits its high notes when the scenery changes to Hawaii. Shades of The Heartbreak Kid come to mind, but at least this version is funny and clever rather than just energetic. It's also nice first effort from director Nicholas Stoller.
Like most Apatow productions, Forgetting Sarah Marshall runs a bit long for a romantic comedy, and given that most of the film centers around a familiar plot that doesn't take that much effort to relate, it's easy to have winnowed down a few lulls for a more potent comedy. Scenes of Segel on the job as a TV show composer are more distracting than amusing, and a strange choice considering the character himself is supposed to be lazy and unambitious. Also, as with most Apatow comedies, the female roles tend to lack complexity, basically just male fantasies with a propensity for liking geeks and average joes. The ending, which finally does tie in with Peter's lifelong ambition to create a vampire puppet show opera, is inspired, and definitely strikes the right chord. It delivers on laughs, and maintains a solid interest even through some momentary weaker stretches, making it one of the more entertaining romantic comedies of 2008. And despite one key scene of Peter's peter, it's not flaccid.
©2008 Vince Leo