Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)

19 Feb

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Well, it’s time for a new lovable loser to take over the writing in the comedies coming off the Judd Apatow assembly line. First came Judd Apatow himself, writing (and directing) the romantic comedies “40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up.” Then came Seth Rogen and his buddy Evan Goldberg, writing the teenage comedy “Superbad.” Now for the Apatow-produced romantic comedy “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” he calls back his former “Freaks & Geeks” cast member Jason Segel and introduces a newcomer—Nicholas Stoller—to direct.

Segel not only writes this material, but also stars in it as a guy named Peter, who has a great relationship with his TV-star girlfriend Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell) and also provides the ominous background-music “tones” for her crime show. But when Sarah comes over to his apartment, saying “I love you” in a pitiful tone, that can only mean one thing.

So Peter and Sarah are broken up and Peter is not taking it very well. To call him a wreck would be an understatement. He’s advised to take a vacation in Hawaii to take his mind off of her. But there’s a problem—Sarah is there with her new boyfriend and staying at the same hotel!

Things are about as complicated as they could possibly get. Sarah’s new boyfriend—the British rock singer Aldous Snow (Russell Brand)—is a complete weirdo, and things get really awkward when Aldous invites Peter to eat with him and Sarah at a restaurant. But soon enough, Peter finds a friend and trace of hope in the attractive hotel receptionist, Rachel (Mila Kunis). She’s beautiful, sympathizes with Peter, and lends him a supporting hand.

All of the people on the island in this movie are just hilarious and there are a handful of characters to watch and enjoy. There’s not only the zany Aldous Snow. There’s also the constantly stoned surfing instructor (played with relish by Paul Rudd), the religious newlyweds who have trouble with sex, the waiter/stalker (Jonah Hill) who tries to get Aldous to take a listen to his demo tape, and the island’s butcher. I don’t know if this counts as “on the island,” but there’s also Peter’s stepbrother whom Peter constantly stays in touch with via Skype. He’s very funny as well.

“Forgetting Sarah Marshall” has a wonderful screenplay by Segel (who, remember, also stars as Peter). He’s not afraid of making Peter into a desperate schlub of a guy, which makes for very funny moments in the first act. And for that matter, he’s also not afraid of…how do I put this? Letting it all hang out. The scene in which Sarah breaks up with Peter features quick shots of Peter’s genitals, pushing just how far the MPAA rating system could go.

Segel also gives the side characters more than enough moments to shine and the actors are game enough to give them their all. Bill Hader, as Peter’s stepbrother, delivers some of the film’s funniest one-liners while mainly on the other end of a cell phone or a computer, and his sweet-natured wife is very likable, though her role is very brief. Russell Brand is simply hysterical as Aldous Snow, who, with his long hair, lion-like face, thick British accent, and calm-yet-nutty mannerisms, is a comic treat of a character on screen. Paul Rudd is winningly silly. Jonah Hill has some great moments as he stalks Aldous while he thinks he’s being subtle about it.

The two main women are also written well and portrayed even better by the actresses. Sarah isn’t written as a complete snob (a kinder word for “bitch”). She just believes that her relationship with Peter didn’t work out and would like to try something new. She doesn’t hate Peter and we, as an audience, don’t dislike her. Kristen Bell does a nice job of portraying Sarah Marshall as having more humanity than you would expect in this sort of role. Mila Kunis (of TV’s “That ‘70s Show” fame) is absolutely delightful as Rachel—she has a great sense of comic timing, is quite fetching, and makes Rachel the kind of girl I would like to get to know in a time of crisis.

Those previous three paragraphs have gone out of their way to give praise to the written characters of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” and how the actors portray them, but what else does the screenplay give us? Only more and more quirks to make us laugh. I couldn’t find a single weak link when it comes to the comedy in this script. What can you say about a musical about Dracula…featuring puppets? Seriously, what can you say? I couldn’t say anything. Why? Because I was constantly laughing. Oh, and I should also mention that a majority of the jokes in this movie are not merely gross-out gags…they’re just sex jokes. To be honest, I’m actually kind of relieved.

But also, like in previous Apatow comedies like “40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up,” the mix between raunchiness and romance is kept in check; carefully fashioned and convincing. Many of the moments that feature Peter and Rachel together reminded me of the finest moments in “When Harry Met Sally.” Segel and Kunis show a great deal of chemistry, they’re convincing throughout, and their comic timing is spot-on.

“Forgetting Sarah Marshall” is a hilarious and even heartfelt movie with a funny screenplay, likable acting, and a real heart to go with the humor. And the last thing to say is that if I wind up in a predicament like Peter’s and need a vacation to take my mind off it, I hope Mila Kunis is there to help me out.

Note: I might be wrong on this one, but if the shots of Peter’s nudity had stayed on a little longer, the R rating for this movie may have been replaced with an NC-17.

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