Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)

The ultimate romantic comedy for guys, 2008’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall is a brilliantly funny movie about getting dumped and moving on. Directed by first-timer Nicholas Stoller and written by star Jason Segel, this film is the best of the recent Apatow comedies (Judd Apatow produced it) and one of the finest comedies in the last few years. I must admit that I had my doubts looking at the cast, but I will never doubt Jason Segel’s ability to carry a film ever again.

Segel stars as composer Peter Bretter and he has the perfect life. He has spent the past five years absolutely in love with his girlfriend, Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell of Veronica Mars). Sarah is the star of a hilarious CSI-esque television program called, you guessed it, Crime Scene. One day, the ride ends sadly as Sarah breaks up with Peter and states that there’s someone else in the picture. Distraught, Peter goes on a bender and sleeps around quite a bit before his step-brother Bryan (Bill Hader) decides that he should go on a vacation. Peter packs his bags and heads for Hawaii.

Upon arriving there, Peter is stunned to see that Sarah and her new boyfriend the British rocker Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) are staying at the same resort. Peter’s luck is changing quickly, however, as he’s just met Rachel Jenson (Mila Kunis), the hotel’s hospitality clerk. She takes on Peter’s pain and the two strike up a friendship that is apparently leading somewhere compelling. As we wander through the resort with Peter, Rachel, Sarah, and Aldous, we meet an assortment of characters that breathe life into the film. We’re right there with Peter as he tries to get over Sarah with Sarah right there in front of him frolicking in the sand with her new rock beau. It’s a classic “tough break” movie.

What sets Forgetting Sarah Marshall above the norm is its ability to combine vulgar humour with a sort of soft and sweet side. These characters are real; they have dimensions that we are able to feel through the film’s brilliant screenplay. While Knocked Up often ditched the confines of reality for sequences of unrealistic dialogue and obnoxiously poor taste, Forgetting Sarah Marshall plays it subtler and actually creates a comedy about love for adults. The characters feel things and aren’t afraid to burst through the stereotypes. Peter cries, relentlessly, for instance.

The precision with which the bit characters act in the film is well worth a closer look, too. Take Paul Rudd, for instance. He plays Chuck, a surf coach. When Chuck meets Peter for the first time and takes him surfing, Peter is taken in by Chuck’s kindness and his tendency to listen. The day is a great one for Peter and he is truly grateful for his experience with Chuck, thinking he’s made a new friend. On the next instance when Peter comes across Chuck, however, Chuck doesn’t remember Peter. It turns out that Chuck was simply doing his job, on autopilot, and Peter’s great friendship was all part of the job.

It is this type of social layering that gives Forgetting Sarah Marshall its depth. The major characters exist in a real world as opposed to a fake one and the situations take on extra levity thanks to the supporting cast’s attention to detail. With Rudd, Jonah Hill, Jack McBrayer, and others filling in the gaps, this becomes a first-rate comedy.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall also has sweetness to it, helping give weight to the actions of its core characters. For a moment, we believe Sarah and Peter may get back together again and yet we can’t help but think it’s all a mistake. The sweetness occurs in the realization of error and in the continued realization of how things could be. Without spoilers, it’s a marvellous way to play with an all-too-common entity in these sorts of films.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall will probably be the best comedy of 2008. It is, at times, vulgar and crass, but it has a heart of gold. The performances are all great, especially that of Russell Brand and Jason Segel. One warning: penis.