Saturday, January 29, 2011

Forgetting Sarah Marshall Is Not Forgettable, But It Is Not The Unforgettable Film I Anticipated.

The Good: Good character study, Moments of real humor, Good DVD bonus features
The Bad: Somewhat predictable, Plays the same note over and over again.
The Basics: Funny, but as often moody and compelling for the difficulty one man has in getting over his romantic relationship, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is worth seeing.

For the last few years, there have been very few comedies I have actually wanted to see. One of the few, though, was Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and truth be told, I cannot remember why it was that I wanted to see it. I think it may have been on the strength of Jason Segel, whose work I began enjoying with Freaks And Geeks. Since then, it seems like Segel's star has been rising. As well, I have generally enjoyed the works of Kristen Bell, save her appearance in Couple's Retreat (reviewed here!), so Forgetting Sarah Marshall seemed to have a lot to offer me.

Whatever my preconceptions of Forgetting Sarah Marshall were before I sat down to watch it, it took very little time to realize the movie was not what I thought it might be. Honestly, I suspect that I thought it was somehow related to Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind. Forgetting Sarah Marshall is nothing like that other movie. The title is a misnomer for those who are raised on science fiction. Instead, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is a surprisingly stark and real exploration of the end of relationships. Outside the improbability that comes from the opportunities the celebrity protagonists have in it, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is surprisingly realistic and filled with an emotional depth that most comedies do not possess.

Peter, a composer for "Crime Scene: Scene Of The Crime," is heartbroken (and naked) when his girlfriend, Sarah Marshall (the star of "Crime Scene") dumps him after a 5 ½ year relationship. Sarah begins dating pretentious pop singer Alice Snow (lead singer of Infant Sorrow) and the two head off to Hawaii. Trying to get over her, Peter ends up at the same resort at the same time as Sarah and Alice. Humiliated by not being able to afford a room at the posh hotel, Peter is rescued by Rachel, the hotel's clerk. As Peter goes through his day, he tries to avoid Sarah, gets very drunk and tries to surf.

But there is trouble in paradise for Sarah and she soon realizes Alice is a pretentious jerk. Peter learns to enjoy life with Rachel who takes him hiking and jumping off a cliff. She illustrates that he should not give up on his dreams, encouraging him to finish his rock opera on "Dracula." While Sarah begins to see the value of Peter, Rachel fears he will go back to her and Peter must find his own way.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall is brilliantly self-referential at a key moment when Peter describes his rock opera of Dracula as a tragedy that others have mistaken as a comedy. There is a lot to laugh at in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but more often than not, the film is a character study of a deeply depressed man who is motivated by powerful emotions stemming from a strong sense of loss. Peter is sad and awkward as he is difficult to watch through most of the movie because of his self-destructive tendencies and . . . depressed people are not fun to watch.

But what works well for the film and for Peter is that he is both a creative genius and a romantic. Peter's complex emotions do not stop him from having tendencies that are very much those of a realist. So, he knows that his musical accompaniment for the television show is little more than annoying mood music fragments and this has left him feeling professionally and creatively unfulfilled much the way he is emotionally unfulfilled following Sarah leaving him. Still, just as he has potential in a relationship with the sarcastic and disenchanted Rachel, he has the chance for professional satisfaction and growth through his rock opera and once he stops being s depressed drunk long enough to mention his other interests, he becomes truly realized and entertaining to watch.

Written by Jason Segel, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is predictably easy for Segel to perform in. Segel is playing the part he wrote and he comes to it with an ease that does not seem to push the limits of his acting ability. The obsessive nature of Peter, for example, is a note Segel played in both Freaks And Geeks and Undeclared. As such, it is hard to say the movie has great acting. It does, however, have fairly inspired casting and Segel performs his own words quite well. He capitalizes on his sense of comic timing as well as dramatic tension when his character is brooding.

But more than that, Segel is surrounded by a great supporting cast. Kristen Bell is very much the stereotype (or archetype) of the blonde celebrity and Bell plays the unlikable role convincingly. She is able to play cruel and heartless well and her role accents Peter's inherent goodness. The one who truly dazzles is Mila Kunis as Rachel. Kunis is often cast in roles that play her as conceited or manipulative and in Forgetting Sarah Marshall she has a surprisingly wholesome role that she is exceptionally likable in. This is a stretch for her as an actress, but she meets the challenge with a looser body language and this becomes one of her more memorable roles.

And while the movie is occasionally dark and emotionally heavy, it is still funny. Forgetting Sarah Marshall features crude humor and male nudity as humor. Most of the jokes are verbal, with characters spacing out or getting into uncomfortable situations, like Peter, Rachel, Sarah and Alice having dinner together. As well, there are quick one-liners, like Alice offhandedly mentioning he has genital herpes, but he hasn't mentioned it to Sarah because he is not having an outbreak. The film has a number of quick jokes like that and it is likely to satisfy those who enjoy the style of humor of Judd Apatow films (he was a producer on the movie and he essentially discovered Jason Segel).

On DVD, Forgetting Sarah Marshall includes such bonus features as a slew of deleted and extended scenes which are actually quite funny. As well, there is a gag reel and a few of the scenes that were not included in the theatrical release are highlighted in a special featurette. There is also full-length commentary track, which is funny and informative. Fans will enjoy the bonus features.

Anyone who can handle more moody comedies will find something to like out of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but those looking for a pure comedy are likely to be unpleasantly surprised. The movie, while predictable in the character arcs like most romantic comedies, is surprisingly dense and emotionally-driven. This makes it a better movie than it might initially seem, but also a very different type of film.

For other works featuring Mila Kunis, please check out my reviews of:
Black Swan
Family Guy Presents: It’s A Trap!
Date Night


For other movie reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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