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Forgetting Sarah Marshall (A Movie Review)

Updated: Oct 28, 2022

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Forgetting Sarah Marshall


Starring Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, Russell Brand, Bill Hader, Liz Cackowski, Maria Thayer, Jack McBrayer, Taylor Wily, Da’Vone McDonald, Steve Landesberg, Jonah Hill, Paul Rudd, Carla Gallo, Billy Bush, William Baldwin and Jason Bateman.

Screenplay by Jason Segel.

Directed by Nicholas Stoller.

Distributed by Universal Pictures.  112 minutes.  Rated R.

About a year and a half ago, I interviewed Jason Segel, screenwriter and star of the latest rude-but-surprisingly-charming romantic comedy out of the Judd Apatow comedy stable – which has also spawned The Forty Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up and Superbad.  (Segel has worked with the producer since acting in Apatow’s 1999 cult TV series Freaks and Geeks.)  At the time, Segel referred to a movie script he had written which was “with Judd at Universal, hopefully to be done this hiatus.”

Segel also discussed a character development in his day job on the sitcom How I Met Your Mother, with a quote that turned out to possibly be a veiled reference to the movie script.  “My favorite comic tone is pathetic and single,” Segel had laughed.  “I just think it’s funny…  It’s maybe the most universal experience there is; this feeling that you’re never going to find somebody…  It’s the funniest area – the guy haplessly out there trying to date.”

Now that script has been released to the multiplexes as Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and it is a gem, certainly getting the Apatow brand back on track after one of the producer’s occasional missteps with the flatfooted Owen Wilson comedy Drillbit Taylor.

There was a little to worry about here, because it was the directing debut of Nicholas Stoller, the writer behind another one of those missteps – the awful Jim Carrey remake of Fun With Dick and Jane, however the redemption here is sweet.  Not that Forgetting Sarah Marshall is necessarily the best-directed film ever, nor does it have to be.  All Stoller really had to do was stay out of the way and capture the clever banter, interesting story and corral the quick comic actors.

Segel plays Peter Bretter, a struggling musician who has put aside his composing aspirations to do “dark and moody” backing music on a cheesy forensic police drama.  He hates the job but keeps it because he loves the star, Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell), a blonde bombshell starlet who somehow (a staple in the Apatow world) has stuck with this sweet but slightly unattractive, goofy, morose, homebody.  I wish I lived in Apatow’s sphere – where gorgeous women are looking for the least attractive, most socially inept men they can find.

However, after five years together, the actress decides to trade up to a handsome, dangerous and just slightly self-obsessed British rock star (Russell Brand).  Peter spends months moping about losing Sarah, but eventually decides he has to get away for a while.  He makes the not-exactly-well-thought-out decision to visit a Hawaiian resort which Sarah had always raved about.

No big surprise, he has barely arrived at the resort when he runs into Sarah and her lover.  Suddenly he has gone from a happy traveler to a sad and pathetic stalker who goes everywhere alone.  However, he finally befriends a beautiful and sympathetic hotel worker named Rachel (Mila Kinis) and is able to start to move on with his life.  The problem is that when Sarah sees Peter starting to get involved with Rachel, she starts to have second thoughts about leaving him.

Of course, word is already out there about how completely Segel has thrown himself into the role, refusing to feel any shame or indignity.  In fact, he does the long breakup scene completely naked.  The film is a complete triumph for him – both as a writer and as an actor.

Much of the cast is known more for television than features, Segel from How I Met Your Mother and Freaks and Geeks, Bell from Veronica Mars and Heroes, Kunis from That 70s Show.  They even tap into buzz character actor Jack McBrayer in a supporting role, essentially playing a variation of his character of Kenneth the NBC page on 30 Rock, here as an inexperienced and uncomfortable honeymooner.

The nice surprise is that all of them are fully capable of carrying a movie.  (Well, except for McBrayer, who is only there for supporting comic relief and whose shtick might get a bit annoying if he were asked to shoulder more of the responsibility for the film.)  This is particularly gratifying for the gorgeous and charming Kunis, whose career will hopefully blossom from this role after being a little adrift in recent years with a bunch of nothing roles in the D-list likes of American Psycho 2 and Tony & Tina’s Wedding.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2008  All rights reserved.  Posted: April 18, 2008.

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