Forgetting Sarah Marshall

forgettingsarah

Movie review by Greg Carlson

In “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” the latest Judd Apatow-produced comedy to prominently feature performers who have appeared on “Freaks and Geeks,” actor Jason Segel does double duty as the movie’s screenwriter. Despite the candid raunchiness, which is now presented as a matter of fact in the Apatow universe, Segel’s mostly routine screenplay lacks the zest displayed by “Superbad,” penned by pal Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. To be fair, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” has more in common with the relationship-focused “Knocked Up,” but the movie sometimes comes across as half-baked. It resembles a sitcom episode more than it should.

Segel plays composer Peter Bretter, a decent fellow whose ambitions to complete a puppet rock opera based on “Dracula” have been placed on the back burner since he began collecting steady paychecks writing moody instrumental filler for a “CSI”-esque TV cop show. Better yet, the slacker doofus is blessed with the improbable good fortune to be the real-life boyfriend of the series’ hot star, the Sarah Marshall of the title (played by Kristen Bell). Their too-good-to-be-true romance melts down in the opening sections of the movie, propelling Peter into tearful one-night-stands to salve his shattered heart. For virtually no other reason than convention, Peter ends up in Oahu at the very same resort where Sarah has shacked up with her new beau, a narcissistic British rocker with the wonderful name Aldous Snow (Russell Brand).

With the big pieces of the puzzle in place, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” introduces the typical complications, and in spite of the painful awkwardness, nobody seriously considers just leaving. Peter is befriended by gorgeous front desk clerk Rachel Jansen (Mila Kunis, easily the best thing about the movie), and even kindergartners would recognize that she, not Sarah, is the one for Peter. Perhaps we are meant to believe that Rachel sympathizes with Peter because she went through a harsh break-up of her own, but she falls for him too quickly. Kunis, however, works wonders with her underwritten role, easily holding down the movie and besting the entire cast. She should have been the movie’s central character.

Several Apatow regulars are launched into orbit around the principal quartet. Paul Rudd plays a forgetful surf instructor. Jonah Hill appears as an eager waiter starstruck by Snow. The usually trusty Bill Hader is out of focus as Peter’s scolding brother. Honeymooner Jack McBrayer struggles to consummate his marriage. In a better movie, the various subplots would connect and contribute to the central storyline, but here they function mostly to pad out the running time. Worse, the talented actors play caricatures rather than characters.

Even when the film settles on the main thread of action, director Nicholas Stoller cannot seem to make it all work. Segel himself might take some of the blame for writing his own screen counterpart as an aimless, people-pleasing softie, but the movie tanks in its treatment of the title character. Presented variously as a calculating cheater and a self-centered starlet, Sarah is not seen as a recognizable person until it is too late. Even then, her own insecurities compromise her integrity and put Peter in jeopardy. By the end, one is not sure whether to feel sorry for Sarah or to hate her for the way she has behaved.

This review was also published in the High Plains Reader the week of 4/28/08.

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