Forgetting Sarah Marshall (Nicholas Stoller, 2008): USA

Reviewed by Richard Feilden.  Viewed on DVD.

forgetting sarah marshallI haven’t watched a lot of newly release comedy in, oh, say the last five years.  Is it a coincidence that 2004 was year that the Judd Apatow juggernaut rolled into Hollywood and changed the comedy scene?  Well, let’s just say that watching the trailers for films like Knocked Up and The Wedding Crashers made the thought of inviting a few friends to garnish my pizza with their own toe-nail clippings seem like an attractive prospect.  It might surprise you then that over the last couple of months I’ve worked my way through over a dozen Apatow era productions.  Like a good little film reviewer I’ve tried to leave my preconceptions behind, imagining a little puff of fresh air emerging from each jolly, red Netflix envelope as I’ve torn them open and popped in the disc.  So, was Forgetting Sarah Marshall the comedy that convinced me that I was right to give these films a chance?  No.  It’s a weary, overlong, mess of a film.  I hated it.

Peter Bretter (Jason Segel) is dating above his station.  Overweight and unmotivated, he has managed to end up dating Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell), a successful, glamorous, TV star.  But reality bites hard when she dumps him.  Falling into depression (you can tell, because he does exactly what he did before, only with added crying), he heads off to Hawaii, where, shock of shocks, he runs straight into his ex, as well as her new boyfriend.  Will he end up winning back the girl of his dreams?  Will the down to earth, yet ridiculously attractive hotel receptionist capture his heart instead?  Will there be moments of random nudity designed to attract a young male audience, but from bit-part women actors who don’t have the contractual clout of the stars?  Well, I’m pretty sure you can guess the last one, but you’ll have to be desperate enough to watch the film to answer the others.

Now, being the good little reviewer that I claim to be, I need to justify my disdain for the film, so I’ll start with Segel.  I’m going to give him kudos for being willing to add some male nudity to balance out the ladies who get one line and fewer garments, but that’s all I’m going to give him I’m afraid.  He seems to be trying to fill the role as a poor-man’s Vince Vaughn, but he lacks Vaughn’s everyman charm and charisma.  I just don’t like the character as he plays him, and if I don’t want to see the man I’m supposed to be rooting for, the film really has lost the fight.  Playing opposite him, Bell’s acting range here isn’t stretched much past pouting and orgasms, so she doesn’t fare much better.

Speaking of Bell and Segel brings me to another of this films (and many others in this ‘geeks rule’ era) problems.  Apatow and co. have apparently been watching rather too much pornography and have foolishly brought into the fantasy that charmless, fat, unattractive men are the sexual equivalent of chocolate-covered-crack-cocaine for dysfunctional yet stunningly attractive women.  Now, I’m not going to suggest that looks are everything (because frankly, given my own features, it would just be depressing!), but I’m closer to buying the idea that hookers look like Julia Roberts than I am to believing some the insta-attraction that happens here.  Don’t get me wrong, ever since The Breakfast Club I’ve been waiting for the day that being a nerd would get you the girl, but this film just doesn’t sell it.

There are plenty of other things to hate as well, from the entirely superfluous scenes which needed cutting, through to the presence of the odious Russell Brand, but I’m going to call it quits here and put this mess out of my mind.  Positive comments?  Well, it isn’t the very worst of the Apatow era films that I’ve watched and that’s about all that I’ve got.  Maria Thayer and Jack McBrayer make an amusing, though completely irrelevant, newly-married couple who are trying to find a way to balance puritanical beliefs with nymphomaniac strength sex drives.  Given that they are in the film for all of three minutes I can hardly recommend it based on that though.

At the end of the day the cardinal sin that this movie is guilty of, at least in my eyes, is that it just isn’t funny.  It isn’t that I don’t have a sense of humor; I think that Dr Strangelove is one of the greatest films made to date.  I’m not a comedy snob either.  Were I not too many to weep, Dodgeball would have had me crying with laughter.  If a film doesn’t make me laugh when it’s supposed to, then there is little more that I can say.  Avoid.

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