Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Raunchy comedy? Sentimental romance? Sounds like Judd Apatow.
By Devin D. O’Leary
Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Directed by Nicholas Stoller
Cast: Jason Segal, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis
“From the guys who brought you The 40-Year-Old Virgin” is getting to be like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for movie comedies. Judd Apatow has only directed one movie since The 40-Year-Old Virgin, but his name has been attached in one way or another to nine films since then: The TV Set, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Knocked Up, Superbad, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Drillbit Taylor, this weekend’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall plus Pineapple Express and Step Brothers, which will hit theaters this summer. All of them were produced (or executive produced) by Apatow and feature pals he’s known since the days of writing, producing and directing “Freaks and Geeks.”
Comic actor Jason Segel is the latest “Freaks and Geeks” alum to benefit from hanging out at Judd’s house. Segel, who appeared in Knocked Up and can be seen every Monday night on CBS’ “How I Met Your Mother,” wrote and stars in the Apatow-approved Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
In this anti-romantic comedy, Segel plays Peter Bretter, the schlubby man-boy music composer for a “CSI”-like TV show. (His job basically consists of making ominous tones on his keyboard.) Through a twist of very un-Hollywood-like luck, Peter’s longtime girlfriend is the show’s sexy blonde star, Sarah Marshall (TV vet Kristen Bell, from “Veronica Mars,” “Heroes”). One unhappy day, Sarah lowers the boom on Peter, breaking up with the sweetly vulnerable dude and leaving him to wallow in a sea of self-pity.
Peter’s best bud (Bill Hader, one of many of Apatow’s stock players employed here) convinces him he should get his mind off things with a vacation. Grudgingly, Peter packs off to a resort hotel in Hawaii for a little R and R. But who should he run into at the check-in desk but his fresh ex and her clueless rock star lover (British scene-stealer Russell Brand)? Unwilling to simply go to another resort (mostly because it would leave the film without a plot), Peter sticks it out, allowing the humiliation of the situation to build to epic proportions.
Segel isn’t afraid to pile the pathos on his character. He’s a fearless performer, all right, and perfectly willing to make himself the butt of a joke. (Let’s just say Segel spent a lot of time “hanging out” on set.) Hysterical crying jags, self-pitying songs and some drunken bad behavior mark Peter’s complete inability to accomplish the titular task. If you’re fresh off an ugly breakup yourself, you’re far more likely to identify with the depression and degradation our protagonist puts himself through. If your ugly breakup (we’ve all got one) is a little further in the past, chances are you’ll just be embarrassed by how stupid people act when a relationship goes south.
Of course, being connected with Judd Apatow, there’s got to be a squishy emotional center to all the raunchy, man-boy hijinks. The script provides Peter with an easy romantic out in the form of super-cutie desk clerk Mila Kunis (from “That ’70s Show”). Hmmm. Choose between your trifling, fame whore of an ex-girlfriend or the funny, cool Hawaiian babe who instantly digs you. All our love lives should be so difficult.
The tropical hotel setting, the raunchy sex comedy and the too-easy love triangle are all uncomfortably reflective of the Farrelly brothers’ recent remake of The Heartbreak Kid (there’s a memory none of us want to dredge up). Although his plot template may be familiar and pocked with the occasional hole (a TV star and a rock star shacking up at a common beach resort? Where are the swarms of paparazzi?), Segel still manages to craft a comedy that steers clear of expectation. He wisely stops short of creating good guys and bad guys in this tale, giving everyone on board several layers of realism. Even Sarah’s egotistical new boyfriend avoids villainous status, proving himself somewhat cool in the end.
A few shock laughs, a couple memorable characters and a bit of raw emotion leave Forgetting Sarah Marshall hovering somewhere between Superbad and Walk Hard in the Apatow canon.
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