Movie Review – Forgetting Sarah Marshall
– Summary –
Director : Nicholas Stoller
Cast : Jason Segel, Kirsten Bell, Mila Kunis, Russell Brand, Bill Hader, Liz Cackowski, Jack McBrayer, Maria Thayer, Jonah Hill, Paul Rudd, Jason Bateman, William Baldwin, Kristen Wiig, Da’Vone McDonald.
Year Of release : 2008
Length : (Uncut version) 120 Minutes
Synopsis: When Peter is dumped by his TV star girlfriend Sarah Marshall, he retreats to Hawaii to soothe his broken heart. But when Sarah and the man she replaced Peter with show up for their own holiday, things take a turn for the worse. Peter meets hotel receptionist Rachel, and the two form a friendship that slowly grows into something more. But Peter’s reluctance to consider his relationship with Sarah over poses a major speed bump in their relationship.
Review : Flat, alternately dull and funny comedy about breaking up and moving on, Jason Segel and Mila Kunis leave this film with their heads held high. Nobody else does, as it swiftly sinks into the American generic pratfall comedy, which is neither funny or engaging, and makes Forgetting Sarah Marshall a film to forget. Fast.
Judd Apatow does nothing for me. I’ll admit it. I’m not a raving fan of his works, particularly stuff he’s “produced” rather than directed specifically. I enjoyed 40 Year Old Virgin, and there were a couple of laughs in Knocked Up, but generally, I don’t really find his films hysterically amusing. Maybe it’s just me. In fact, it probably is just me, because the rest of the world thinks the sun shines out his backside. So I’m going against the raging flood, I know, but I’ll swing my hat out and state that while moments in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, which Apatow produced, were amusing, and overall the film was better than bad, it still wasn’t the mind blowing awesome that some people said it was. I like to think my sense of humour is fairly broad, you know. I believe that I have an appealing taste in comedic cinema, ranging from the slapstick insanity of Monty Python to the teen-sex romps such as American Pie and it’s ilk. I also enjoy the more ribald comedy at times, although I have to pick my audience with those. But as with Knocked Up and Virgin, as well as the astonishingly unfunny Superbad (which was, as it’s name suggest, super-bad!) I didn’t find Forgetting Sarah Marshall the intellectually stimulating comedy the front cover suggested. And you know what? I can’t for the life of me figure out why!
Peter Bretter (How I Met Your Mother’s Jason Segel) is a composer for a hit TV series similar to those CSI-crime types, called Crime Scene. His girlfriend, Sarah Marshall (Kirsten Bell, who looks somewhat similar to Kate Bosworth) plays the lead actress in said show, and the two have been dating for the past five years. So when Sarah dumps Peter in order to reclaim her lifestyle, Peter goes into an emotional slump. In order to try getting his life back in order, Peter takes an extended vacation (at the behest of his step-brother) to Hawaii. Upon arriving, Peter meets receptionist Rachel (Mila Kunis), with whom he quickly forms a bond. But when Sarah and her new boyfriend, rock god Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) show up at the same hotel, a battle of the ex’s ensues. As they start to unravel their relationship, Peter discovers that Sarah has been cheating on him before, and Sarah delivers some pretty harsh home truths to her former flame, all before the expected romantic climax.
Jason Segel’s script, which is obviously fairly autobiographical in nature, is riddled with some great dialogue, particularly some of the more tender, emotional moments. It has the potential to be quite funny, which is why I am so disappointed in the whole thing. Segel really gets the nuances of am emotional break-up, and it’s easy to see why this film would touch a nerve with men around the world: Forgetting Sarah Marshall is quite simply a “bromantic” comedy, a romcom for guys. It’s told from a male perspective, the women are all gorgeously beautiful, and the secondary characters all oblivious to just how stupid they are. It’s a generic formula used by Segel in his script, to make the lead actor (in this case, him) more appealing and sympathetic, as the only “real” guy in the film. Even Russell Brand’s lecherously delightful Aldous Snow, probably channelling an early 70’s Mick Jagger, isn’t immune to the film’s less than realistic portrayal of humanity. I understand it’s a comedy, but the characters have to be rooted in reality to make them even halfway funny. Nobody apart from the four main leads is remotely realistic. Extended cameo appearances by Apatow regulars like Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill and Kristen Wiig cannot salvage their roles; Rudd is a stoner surfing instructor with a memory like Dory’s, Hill a wannabe muso obsessed with Aldous Snow, and Wiig a rather depressing Yoga instructor. The cast all do their utmost, with Segel and Kunis doing the best in a film devoid of heart. Peter Bretter is a schmuck, a second-level human who aspires to be more than he is: a noble effort, no doubt, to snag one of Hollywood’s leading ladies, but his incessant ranting about his former flame borders on the insane. Segel plays him well, a very “everyman” quality to his performance that endears him to us. Kunis, as Rachel, the free-spirited girl to whom Peter truly does belong, doesn’t so much fight for Peter’s love as let him work it out on his own. Both characters are “broken”, so to speak, with their respective former relationships essentially drawing them together in a kind of mutual emotional hug session. Kunis, I must say, lights up the screen whenever she’s on it: her previous film work in Get Over It, After Sex and Boot Camp, as well as in TV sitcom That 70’s Show, have all shown her to be a gorgeous woman and actress of great range.
Of those who fare the least well is perhaps Kirsten Bell. She’s always going to be the one the audience is likely to hate, since she’s the one who breaks up with Peter, and an audience will almost always side with the breaker, not the breakee. Sarah is flaky at best, with Bell not quite up to the challenge of making the character as feisty as she probably should be considering she’s a major TV star in a major TV series. Bell is attractive, and more than competent an actress, but here she’s not up to snuff with her supporting cast. I think she approaches comedy the wrong way, more as a sport than a craft, and her limited comedic talent is laid bare with this film. Russell Brand, a British comedian (and modern day lothario, if the tabloids have it right) is probably the highlight of the film as the waifish, skittish Aldous Snow, a man with more sexual conquests than Casanova and probably more STI’s than a hooker on Broadway. His comedic timing is exemplary, and while I had never pinned him as an actor in any sense, he does very well ad-libbing his way through what is essentially a generic, character-less creation. Snow is meant as a focal point for Peter’s rage, which is stymied by the fact that Peter actually thinks Snow is pretty cool and charming. This particular story plot is pretty well performed on all sides, but it’s a little too late to salvage the rest of the film.
The real trouble with Forgetting Sarah Marshall is it’s lacklustre pacing. Bearing in mind I only saw the Uncut edition (which apparently runs 7 minutes longer than the original theatrical version) I can only tell you what I thought of that version. The story lacks real edge, and as much as the actors try to give it some, it never really goes too far. Jason Segel commits to full frontal nudity in this film, which is brave of him, but considering the nature of what this film is about, and the tone for the majority of the runtime isn’t about flapping penii, the moments we see his package are jarring and altogether unwarranted. The camerawork and editing on this film is fairly flat, pedestrian stuff, with your basic two-shot scenes intermingled with some glorious shots of Hawaii in its natural light. Why the need to shoot in Hawaii particularly, I’m not sure, because this film could have been made anywhere and it’d still work (or not work, depending on your definition of comedy), however the vistas of Hawaii are never fully exploited, leaving the film feeling more like a pumped up TV production than an actual film. The film dawdles along at times, content to focus on Peter’s oft gob-smacked look of incomprehension at his situation, rather than developing the characters in a genuine way. Sarah isn’t portrayed in the best light, which may have been the point, but if she wasn’t meant to be a stock “we hate you” character then the film-makers have failed in this regard as well. I think there’s a lot bubbling beneath the surface of this films major characters, at least between Peter and Rachel, who have a chemistry that’s truly genuine, but overall the film’s flat and facile pacing leaves the audience wondering just what might have been. The raunch, when it comes along, feels forced into the film, never an organic part of it, and this is another of the key problems with it.
There are those who would claim that I have a problem with “raunch” in comedy films, considering my rather negative reviews of films of this genre and tone. I do not have a problem with raunch, per se, but I do have a problem with bad characterisation, some limp direction behind the camera, and a sense of “let’s add some boobs to get the teenagers in” Hollywood boardroom politicising. Okay, so there aren’t many boobs in this film, but the adult themes and sexual nature of the film feels like overkill. Just sayin’.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall isn’t a great film, heck, it’s not even a good film. It barely scrapes in as a comedy insofar as Segel’s brave portrayal of a man who’s heart is broken finding himself again, and his rather tenuously believable relationship with the titular Sarah. Director Nick Stoller pushes the boundaries of good taste with his “adult” sense of humour and some crude dialogue, which I guess is meant to be “modern” and “realistic” to today’s audiences. Honestly, I think it’s just a marketing ploy to allow them to put more F-words into a script, to make it contemporary. Most of the time, it’s not required, and in the case of this film, only pads out the runtime. If you watch this film, give yourself a chance to appreciate the social and emotional nuances Segel’s script has within it, and if you think you enjoy it the first time, allow yourself to dwell on it for a while afterwards, and you’ll probably find yourself thinking that no, it wasn’t really that good a film anyway.
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