A film review by Craig J. Koban
FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL
2008, R, 111 mins.
2008, R, 111 mins.
Peter Bretter: Jason Segel / Sarah Marshall: Kristen
Bell / Rachel Jansen: Mila Kunis / Brian Bretter: Bill Hader /
Matthew: Jonah Hill / Chuck: Paul Rudd / Aldous Snow: Russell
|FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL,
if anything, is one of those perfectly well tailored, once in a blue moon
introductions to a new and inspired comic maestro.
He is a 28-year-old Californian named Jason Segel.
His name may not be familiar, but you may recall seeing him on TV
(he was a regular the short lived FREAKS AND GEEKS, did one memorable
episode of ALIAS and can most recently be seen on HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER)
and in movies (he was one of the stoner friends in KNOCKED
UP, where he
offered up such hilarious advice like, “If a woman’s on top, she
can’t get pregnant. It’s
Segel is the poster boy for
the everyman and is one of the most atypical and least glamorized leading
men to grace the silver screen. He’s
not a tall, dark, chiseled to the hilt, beefcake of a man that looks like
he just walked off the cover page of GQ.
No, he’s big, lumbering, pudgy, covered in body freckles, and is
– in all manners – exceedingly ordinary looking.
That’s the hook of FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL, which Segel stars
in and writes: A handsome and
debonair actor would have all but buried the material; with Segel, his
slacker personified insignificance and physical normalcy injects the film
with a sense of reality. Audiences
can relate to him that much more because he looks like your average,
FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL
is also a film that proudly and exultantly continues the Judd Apatow
rejuvenation of one of the most beloved of all genres: the romantic
comedy. He has made two of
the best and uproarious comedies of our current decade in THE 40-YEAR-OLD
and KNOCKED UP, but he has also completely altered and
deconstructed the romantic comedy in what I think is the most important
renovation of any genre in many a moon.
Romantic comedies have long been lock up within the confines of
“chick flicks”; female
centric films where men are portrayed as lecherous sex-starved maniacs or
dopey, uncaring and unsympathetic fiends.
What Apatow has done is to
radically depart from the normal elements of the genre and craft something
altogether fresh and reinvigorating: The romantic dramedy for men from the
vulnerable male prerogative where men bare all of their indignities –
among other things – to reveal all of their hidden insecurities and frailties.
They also do this by absolutely amalgamating seedy and raunchy
intrigue, large-scale farcical laughs, and warm and sentimental figures.
Nobody has done this as well as Apatow as of late, who can easily be
described as an interesting hybrid of the Farrellys, Blake Edwards and
Apatow is not listed as
director in FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL (that credit goes to first time
filmmaker Nicolas Stoller) and he instead serves as a quarterback of sorts as
the film’s producer. His
aesthetic stamp and influence can be felt through the film, but it is the
emergence of Segel that is the film’s true standout achievement.
We have had countless personas from the sitcom world migrate from
the small screen to the silver screen with intermittent results, but Segel’s may just become one of the most lauded and celebrated.
What he does here in
MARSHALL is nothing short of amazing: He not only gives us razor sharp
dialogue filled with hilarious quips and one-liners, but he also infuses
the script with moments of intelligent reflection with its characters, all
of whom are given three dimensionality and are never lazily written to
service the convenience of the story.
More importantly, FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL just may be one of the
most spot-on honest portrayals and riffs on the extent of male
bewilderment, humiliation, emotional and physical breakdown, and romantic
insecurity that I have ever seen. The
fact that it is just that and also a wacky and zany humdinger of a
comedy is to its credit. Few
films are able to mix the social awkwardness and horror that dives into one
man’s pain with bursts of comic and dramatic energy as well as this one
Segel memorably plays Peter
Bretter and in the beginning of the film he has a scene of stunning,
shocking, and graphic humiliation after the love of his life, Sarah
Marshall (the unremittingly fetching Kristen Bell, from TV’s VERONICA
MARS and HEROES) dumps him. Sarah is no
ordinary girlfriend: she is
TV celebrity royalty and is the star of one of those dime-a-dozen crime
scene investigation shows called, yup, “Crime Scene” (some of the
funniest bits in the film are the clips from the show, which have William
Baldwin doing an absolute dead right riff on David Carruso, whose enunciation
of every line in CSI: MIAMI garners a lot of unintentional mockery).
Peter absolutely worships Sarah and has had a long relationship with
her for five years. However,
he is not the star that she is and constantly lives in her shadow.
He too works in the business, but as a composer for the crime show,
and mostly spends his days at home. He
does have a passion project that he wants to get off of the ground:
A rock opera about Dracula...with puppets.
So, the day comes where
Sarah gives Peter the painful news that she is royally dumping him. Peter,
of course, is devastated and drowns his sorrows away by looking at old
pics of his girlfriend, watching her news bits on ACCESS HOLLYWOOD, and by
eating crock pot sized bowls of Fruit Loops.
He has hit rock bottom, but he is consoled by his step-brother (the
very funny Apatow regular, Bill Hader).
They hit nightclubs and Peter tries to get Peter back on the chick
saddle. Moments of him trying to pick women up are degrading and
shameful, not to mention funny, and Peter soon realizes that he has some
serious separation issues…especially when he starts crying in bed next
to the girl he just has a one night stand with.
Realizing that his life has
gone down the proverbial crapper, Peter decides to take action.
He and Sarah once talked about a particular spot in luscious Hawaii
that they wanted to see, so he decides to go there to get away from the
baggage of his LA breakup. Big
mistake. No sooner does he
arrive at the front desk of the hotel does he spot the bikini clad Sarah
(when she rightfully asks why he is there, Peter side-splittingly and
sarcastically deadpans, “I came here to kill you,” to which he then
laughs and provides the film’s most uncomfortable moment).
What’s even worse is that Sarah is now there with her new beau, a
sanctimonious British Rocker with aspirations of world peace and harmony,
named Aldous Snow (the brilliantly funny Russell Brand), whose music
videos and lyrics are howlers. Peter
thinks his vacation has gone all to hell, but he is befriended by
the hotel receptionist named Rachel (Mila Kunis, from TV’s THAT 70’S
SHOW, whose has utterly blossomed into a luminous, gorgeous brunette
goddess that radiates the screen).
What’s interesting here
is that Rachel sees and understands Peter’s pain and insecurities and
shows him some tenderness and compassion by befriending him.
She too is a victim of a breakup, so she can relate, but she
does not want to be a rebound, trophy girlfriend to Peter so that he can
use her as a jealousy ploy against Sarah.
One of the most joyous aspects of Segal’s largely male centered
script is that he writes his female characters with authority, kindness,
and honesty to the point where they never feel like plot hindrances.
Rachel is funny, bubbly, eccentric, and as cute as hell, but she
also is a susceptible and apprehensive person.
What’s even better is how Bell’s Sarah Marshall never gets
delegated to being the cast-iron and vengeful bitch of the film that we
are supposed to hate. We want
to despise her for breaking up with the affable Peter, but the film is
smarter than that and as it
goes on we have scenes where the teary eyed Sarah reveals her hidden
pains and rationale behind leaving Peter. We then grow to understand her inner
issues and emotional dilemmas, which also makes her oddly sympathetic.
Female characters are rarely this well written in sex comedies.
Of course, this is an
Apatow venture, so the film’s quotient of soft, touchy-feely
sentimentality is matched equally by its laugh-out-loud quotient.
Alongside the moments of tender, soft-spoken intrigue there are
many moments of inspired highjinks. Segel
is able to deliver knee-slapping laughs that help give flavor to what could
have been routine and predictable moments, and he does so with strange and
absurd sight gags, brilliant one lines, and uproarious back and forth
exchanges. FORGETTING SARAH
MARSHALL is as funny as anything I’ve seen this year and there are
instances of comic inventiveness throughout.
Peter’s moment where he
gets the news that he is being dumped is shocking, sad, and funny, as is a
moment later in the film where – in an attempt to get his mind off of things
– he helps a Hawaiian local slaughter a pig for a lavish meal.
Also laugh inducing is when Peter gets on stage at a bar in front
of Rachel and drunken spectators and sings a song from his Dracula rock
opera, which is inventive and funny. There
is also many sly instances where Peter and his step brother correspond via
web cam chat and another scene where Rachel and Peter go cliff diving gets
some large slapstick chuckles. One
of the funnies scenes occurs when Peter awakens from a one-night stand and one of his buddies, while he’s naked in bed surrounded by tissues,
asks, “Are those happy or sad tissues?”
The supporting characters
are also universally droll. Another
Apatow regular, Paul Rudd, gives us nuggets of comic gold with his
performance as a pot-induced surf instructor (“When life gives you
lemons, just say ‘Fuck lemons’ and bail!) and Apatowite Jonah Hill also makes a very amusing cameo as a clingy and strange restaurant greater
that seems very attracted to Sarah’s new rocker boyfriend (he attempts
to give his demo CD to him after Aldous has a rather bad argument with
Sarah, to which he later tells Hill that he was going to listen to it, but
he “just got carried on with living life”).
Perhaps the single funniest side character is played by Jack McBrayer (a
very funny regular on one of TV'S best comedies, 30 ROCK) who plays a conservative Christian
whom is on his honeymoon with his sex-craving wife and he reveals what a relative
novice he is when it comes to pleasing her.
He utters one of the funniest lines of recent memory when he seeks
sex advice from Peter by asking, “If God was such a great engineer, then
why did he put the plumbing so close to the amusement park?”
However great everyone is in FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL, Peter Segel is the film’s champion and hero. It’s his one-two punch of delivering a smart, whimsical, and humorously touching screenplay and equally witty, affectionate and endearing performance that makes his efforts here masterful. His writing hits all the right notes, as does his performance, and what’s great about the film is that this is an adult comedy for adults, and prudes need not apply (there are the obligatory f-bombs littered throughout, and there is copious amounts of simulated sex scenes involving multiple positions, felatcio, and stimulation). What’s truly compelling is that the film does not offer up a smorgasbord of female nudity (there are glimpses here and there) and instead has Segel offering up his own plump full frontal façade for sensationalistic effect. Perhaps the film escaped an NC-17 for the way the sex and nudity are played up for humorous – and not eroticized – effect. What Segel does is remind viewers – male and female alike – that human sexuality is oftentimes uncomfortable and, most crucially, that there is a decided emotional crutch to it. Look at one vital sex scene late in the film where Peter realizes that there is more to sex than just arousal. There are some startling truths here that other sex scenes in weaker films would miss.
FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL is an absolute breakthrough American comedy classic. It lovingly plays off of and continues Judd Apatow’s insistence on revolutionizing the genre by combining the best elements of female and male centric comedies and by instilling a sly level of intelligence, bawdy guffaws, and warmth and depth to its characters. Perhaps it’s most long-standing achievement is the materialization of Jason Segel as a miraculous new comic find. As the writer/performer of MARSHALL, he is this film’s soulful comic and dramatic heartbeat as he fully embraces every subtle, outrageous, heart-rending, and sensationalistic moment of the film without any pretense of ego or self-absorption. The term masterpiece never really gets thrown out when discussing screen comedies. In terms of FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL, it proves how a comedy can seize that accolade to worthy effect. This is one of 2008’s very best films.