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Movie Review: Forgetting Sarah Marshall

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Bad date movies don’t exist. The couple can always make out instead. Forgetting Sarah Marshall falls into this category. Don’t follow this reviewer and watch it alone. Unfortunately, everyone else will be getting a payoff at the end of the night while you’re the one left with a headache and a feeling of lost time.

Peter Bretter(Jason Segel) leads an almost too comfortable life. A composer, he lays down moody tracks for a CSI-like TV crime drama while eating cereal out of mixing bowls. He’s also a lucky man, dating the show’s star, Sarah Marshall (Kristin Bell). One morning, she dumps him for rocker Aldous Snow (Russell Brand). To recover from the breakup, he vacations in Hawaii. Coincidentally, he winds up staying at the same hotel as Sarah and Aldous. Thankfully, the hotel’s front desk clerk, Rachel Jansen (Mila Kunis) sees more promise in Peter than Sarah.

For lowbrow stories with heart, you normally seek out Judd Apatow. Lately though, he’s been producing more than directing.While not as bad as Drillbit Taylor, this Hawaiian vacation movie is a bumpy ride. As a producer, Apatow needs to stop looking like he’s doing favors for people who have worked for him. This is Segel’s and Nicholas Stoller’s first time as writer and director, respectively, and it shows. Apatow needs to choose people who’ll nurture his brand of realism and gag humor. When he produced Superbad, director Greg Motolla was a great choice. In that film, all the young actors gave honest performances. Writers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg adapted their childhood experiences for the screen. But, last summer was a long time ago.

Aside from bitchy blondes and fuzzy-haired slobs, Sarah Marshall is barely an Apatow film. Its story is repetitive, routine, and really unfunny. Its 112-minute runtime doesn’t help. A two-hour comedy with Apatow’s name attached to it usually spells entertainment. Instead, we have a standard 90-minute romantic comedy that is 20 minutes too long. Weak, improvised dialogue only adds to its unbearable length. Everybody’s dry on one-liners here. The normally hyperactive Jonah Hill chokes as a hotel café waiter. Paul Rudd’s stoner surf instructor character tries to cheer Peter up by singing a horrible rendition of “Let it Snow.” “Oh, the weather outside is — weather,” he croons. Give me a break.

That Peter will rise from misery to bliss is never in doubt. The first woman he meets in Hawaii is Rachel, his perfect love. She is more or less required to be in love with him. Trivial actions or dialogue are major relationship builders. Don’t you wish you could butter up your mad girlfriend by wearing a clean shirt? Toward the finale, Rachel rejects Peter after learning he let Sarah make a pass at him. Merely by inviting her to his play, Peter receives a full pardon. By comparison, the hero in Knocked Up, Ben Stone, really changed his life to win back Alison Scott.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall doesn’t earn its emotional moments because nobody is breathing air in this film. Irritation seems to be their only purpose. None are more ridiculous than Peter. It’s nigh impossible to root for, much less identify, with such a wuss. Everybody prods him to do things, including Rachel. Peter begs his half-brother, Brian (Bill Hader) to help him get laid.  Brian thinks so little of him that he doesn’t accompany him to Hawaii. Instead, he advises him through videoconferencing. Peter sobs in the fetal position not once, but several times, annoying other guests.

Blame the casting of Jason Segel for making Peter so loathsome.  Segel doesn’t remotely look flabby. On an oceanside hike with Mila Kunis, he gasps for air. Come on. Segel is a 6'4" former high school basketball player. A jock like him must have the lungs of a whale. I imagine he could swim back to the hotel. The makeup and costume people tried to transform him into Seth Rogen, who normally plays these roles. But, no temporary lack of exercise or Rogen-dyed hair will make him truly slovenly.

As I write this review, I remind myself that the movie’s called Forgetting not Saving Sarah Marshall. But that’s not really a mistake. A well constructed film could have saved this great idea. A man gets dumped by his girlfriend then is forced to experience it up close every day. It happens all the time. The filmmakers made such a big mistake making the new guy a rock star. That’s no less stereotypical than making him a gym instructor, athlete, or corporate vice president. These are common in movies. Real life is just as painful as you’re dumped in favor of someone only slightly more successful than you. The obstacles may be simpler, but are harder to overcome.

Grade: D

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