Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)

This is one of those movies I saw on a whim at SXSW. I was supposed to see something at Alamo on South Lamar, but changed plans at the last minute — I was already parked downtown, figured I ought to go to at least one splashy Paramount premiere, and wanted the chance to hang out with a bunch of other film writers who were planning to attend. Now you know the highly scientific process film critics use to determine their festival schedules.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall is a little difficult to review because I enjoyed the experience of watching the film at a packed Paramount theater, and it made me laugh a whole lot, but it wasn’t very good. If a film makes you laugh that much, shouldn’t it be “good” even if the plot is lame? On the other hand, if I’d seen this movie at a sparsely attended press screening, or watched it alone on DVD, would I have enjoyed it nearly as much? Judging by the fact that I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to see it again, I think the experience itself contributed greatly to my enjoyment.

Like I said, the plot is pretty lame: Peter Bretter (Jason Segal), a composer of terrible TV soundtracks, is traumatized when his gorgeous actress girlfriend, the Sarah Marshall of the title (Kristen Bell) breaks up with him. Worse yet, she’s dumped him for a bizarre Australian rockstar (Russell Brand). He decides finally to travel to Hawaii so he can forget Sarah Marshall, but of course you know she turns up too. And there’s also another pretty love interest. And Jonah Hill keeps popping up. I’m not spoiling anything here because you know what’s going to happen.
The humor in this movie isn’t in the plot, however, it’s in the gags that fly thick and fast and just keep hitting you until some of them stick. Peter has been working sporadically on a puppet rock opera about Dracula, which sounds like one of those quirks stuck in a movie in lieu of any kind of character depth or distinction, but the excerpts from the rock opera had the audience howling. They were unbelievable. We also see more male nudity than you usually get in a film, all in the name of comedy.
The problem is that Forgetting Sarah Marshall is at least 20 minutes too long and the plot, such as it is, starts to feel tired and forced. Even the funniest gags cannot compensate for the fact that you sit there wanting these people to decide already what they’re going to do, which you already know what it is, because every romantic comedy in the universe does the same damn thing. In addition, it was mighty difficult for me to empathize with Peter, whom I felt needed a good smack in the head. I had more of a tendency to sympathize with the title character, who gets treated a bit shabbily as the film progresses. Mila Kunis plays the other love interest, who’s one of those free-spirited wage slaves who turns out to have intellectual ambitions underneath, so it’s okay for the hero to like her (like in Sideways).
Paul Rudd, one of my big crushes, has a delightful small role as a surfing instructor. But I was also very much taken by Russell Brand, who plays the sex-crazed rockstar, and is funnier than the other three leads combined. The other actors were unable to overcome the thinly and inconsistently drawn characterizations. I need to see him in more movies, immediately.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall is a funny movie, especially if you watch it with a lively crowd that gets into the humor. And you know, it’s hard enough to find movies playing in theaters that make you laugh. So maybe it doesn’t matter that the movie is overlong and the story is eyerollingly dumb. See it with a bunch of friends, maybe have a beer first (or during, if you go to the right kind of theater), don’t expect a lot, and you’ll have a good time.

One thought on “Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)”

  1. Russell Brand, among many other things, writes a hilarious weekly football (soccer) blog for Guardian Unlimited. His posts are always full of things like imagined (probably) love affairs between coaches and players, and he once semi-seriously argued that the best coach for the English national team was Morrissey.
    By which I mean to say: He’s a genius, and I’m so glad he was good.

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