Forget Sarah Marshall, welcome Jason Segel

by Beacon Staff • April 16, 2008

Forgetting Sarah Marshall, yet another comedy produced by Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, The 40-Year-Old Virgin), opens with this scenario and proceeds, through the use of gratuitously crude but humorous material, to fulfill its tagline as "the ultimate romantic disaster movie.,Most people would agree that being dumped sucks, especially when you don't see it coming. In fact, the only way this event could possibly be worse is if you happen to be naked while it's happening.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall, yet another comedy produced by Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, The 40-Year-Old Virgin), opens with this scenario and proceeds, through the use of gratuitously crude but humorous material, to fulfill its tagline as "the ultimate romantic disaster movie."

The film focuses on Peter Bretter (Jason Segel), a sloppy, struggling musician who is left to hold the purse of his television star girlfriend, Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell), for nearly six years. When Sarah dumps him for a hip British rocker, Peter is devastated and he tries everything to get over her, from a variety of bizarre one-night stands to watching repeats of Sarah on "Access Hollywood."

Peter finally decides to escape from the drudgery of Los Angeles and takes off for Hawaii as a means of recovery. Unbeknownst to him, Sarah has checked into the same resort with her new boyfriend, sending Peter into a tailspin of tears so loud that the resort staff calls to complain. Even though he is a mess, the staff and patrons take pity on him, inviting him to beach parties and the local bar with the hope that he might one day forget about Sarah Marshall.

Just as he begins to adjust to life on the island, however, Sarah attempts to reignite their relationship, forcing Peter to confront his feelings for her once again.

As with all comedies by producing-juggernaut Apatow, crass humor is rampant in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The script, penned by Segel, is rife with innuendo from the naked breakup through to the end. From a contest of who can have the loudest sex to a doctor whose straightforward advice is shocking, Segel has infused his script with as many dirty details as possible. But what resonates even more than the filthy jokes is the total emotional devastation Peter shows following the breakup. By writing in frequent crying fits and plenty of alcohol, Segel makes the character a shell of his former self, and this is, for some reason, uncomfortably entertaining.

The script is most astute when it pokes fun at today's pop culture phenomena. It not only mocks the CSI series with Sarah's television show, "Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime" but it also includes Billy Baldwin (playing himself) as her incompetent, pause-filled co-star. Other references to "Flavor of Love" and "American Idol" keep the jokes sharp and relevant.

In terms of casting, Segel's turn as Peter is exceptionally funny and, as a screenwriter, autobiographical, drawing inspiration from 10 years of bad breakups.

He takes it to the next level by incorporating his childhood passion for puppets into the film. Before giving up his own music to write the soundtrack for "Crime Scene," it turns out that Peter was in the process of writing a musical about Dracula for puppets.

His performance of one of the musical numbers halfway through the movie is entertaining enough, but when it is performed at the end of the film with Jim Henson-designed puppets and a full cast and chorus, the result is riotously funny. Segel identifies with his character and his ability to get inside Peter's head is evident in both the comedic and more serious scenes.

The female characters in the film are archetypes more than anything else. As Sarah, Kristen Bell has the difficult duty to come across as both a heartbreaker and the person that Peter has loved for six years. While there is nothing wrong with her performance, it comes across as slightly boring.

Her performance as a teenage detective on "Veronica Mars" was the perfect balance of snark and sass, but Bell fades away when placed alongside her funnier male counterparts.

Mila Kunis ("That '70s Show"), who plays Peter's potential love interest and hotel receptionist Rachel Jansen, does nothing to stand out either. As much as she encourages Peter to forget Sarah and get back to his own passions, the comedic aspects of her role aren't memorable.

As funny as Sarah Marshall is, it's the latest example of an Apatow comedy that dismisses funny female characters, both in movies that feature women (Knocked Up) and largely ignore them (Superbad, The 40-Year-Old Virgin).

The smaller supporting roles in the movie actually garner more attention than the female leads, based on their style of comedy.

Apatow favorites Jonah Hill (the "fat kid" from Superbad) and Paul Rudd again steal scenes as Matthew, a hotel employee obsessed with Sarah's new boyfriend, and Chuck a.k.a. Kunu, a nonchalant surfing instructor with a short-term memory disorder, respectively.

Although they only appear in a few scenes, their goofiness translates to comic gold, especially when Matthew seats Peter alone at dinner and offers him a magazine so he won't get bored. These moments of straight comedy lighten the fare and take away from the blaseacute; characters of Sarah and Rachel.

Underwritten female roles aside, the comedy in Forgetting Sarah Marshall is as fresh as the Hawaiian fish, while offering a bit of relationship advice on the side.