Movie-Hype #726 – FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL
Judd Apatow is a juggernaut.
Okay; admittedly, I just like saying “juggernaut,” but in this case, it happens to be perfectly true. Apatow (and his cadre of like-minded hooligans) are responsible for such recent comedies as:
KICKING AND SCREAMING
THE 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN
WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY
Okay, he is also associated with FUN WITH DICK AND JANE and DRILLBIT TAYLOR, but still: it is an impressive comedy run. Chances are, if you have seen a somewhat raunchy (but good-naturedly so) comedy in the last three years, you were Apatowed.1
1 I experimented with several different versions of “Apatowed,” including Apa-Wowed, Apa-ta-Dowed (a la Snoop), and perhaps my favorite, WoTapa’d, before finally settling on the most straightforward. I feel you need to know these things.
The man possibly needs his own day, reviewing all the above films, but for now, let us stick with his latest offering: FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL.
I was ambivalent about whether to see the film, until Carlos called me up late Saturday night.
“Dude, it’s funnier than Forty-Year Old Virgin, funnier than Knocked Up, funnier than Juno, even funnier than Superbad.”
This was a huge deal, as I know that Carlos watched Superbad once a day for 67 straight days after getting the DVD. Recommendations do not come much higher. And while I had minor interest in the acting throw-down of Hugh Laurie and Forrest Whitaker vs. Keanu Reeves in STREET KINGS, or watching Al Pacino searching for a stamp for 88 MINUTES2, it had been a tough weekend, and a comedy seemed just the ticket.
2 …so he could mail in his performance.
I saw FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL (FSM) with my sister who, when asked afterward if FSM was better than SUPERBAD, replied, “Without question.”
I am more hesitant to give such unqualified declarations as the Loaster and Jerrica, but perhaps this is because I had my hands (or handkerchief) over my eyes at least 40% of the time.
This is not a criticism.
I should explain: though manly in the best pirate-hairy chest-beef jerky sort of way, I have an extremely difficult time watching people get embarrassed. I do not know why. My empathy gland seems to be in overdrive. This is why I almost uniformly refuse to watch Reality Television, and consider people like Tom Green to be scum. But it goes further. I do not like it when Ross and Rachel fight. You know that scene in JERRY MAGUIRE when he leaves work in shame, taking the fish? I can hardly watch.3
3 The same thing happens to me in real life. I can hardly watch live drama/singing anymore, because of how excruciating any mistake is. If member of my family get into a heated argument I get so uncomfortable that often I pull my shirt up over my head so I will not have to see them shamed.
With that said, FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL is unquestionably funnier than the other Apatow films, or many other comedies this decade. However, it is often, very very very often, cringingly hysterical. I could not stop laughing. But I had to close my eyes.
The set-up: Peter Bretter (Jason Segel, who played the creepy friend in KNOCKED UP who was always hitting on Katherine Heigl’s sister) is a musician, and boyfriend of the titular Sarah Marshall, a gorgeous TV star just waiting to break into film. Sarah is played by Kristen Bell.
[Many many paragraphs should at this point be devoted to Bell’s previous work, but as we don’t have time, let us leave it at this: you would be in for the most pleasant surprise since you found out what “happy ending” meant if you were to rent Season 1 of Veronica Mars.4]
4 One of the numerous in-jokes in the film is that Bell, so winning on Veronica Mars and other TV work, could easily become the next Sarah Jessica Parker, but you know, with the ability to act, be actually attractive, and hopefully not marry murderers. (Yes, that needs a note of its own, but look something up yourself for once!)
At the beginning of the movie (trust me: I am giving NOTHING away here), Sarah breaks up with Peter. I have to stop right there and warn you IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS LIKE THIS THAT THE OPENING SCENE, AS WELL AS OTHER PARTS OF THE MOVIE, CONTAIN SHOTS OF PETER’S FLACCID PENIS. You might have heard this already, but by Gar, I will have no one walk in unprepared!
This is not to say Peter’s pendulous penis is an unwelcome site. Okay, that is glib. Obviously, with the exception of Michelangelo’s David and TMNT’s Michelangelo, no one ever wants to see a wang in public. However, the offending member is used to great comedic effect.
It is like this: Sarah comes over to Peter’s apartment. He has just gotten out of the shower, and is clad in only a towel. Recognizing a breakup speech commencing, Peter drops his towel in shock, and then steadfastly refuses to pull it back up, or for that matter put on any clothes.
I re-read that last paragraph and it comes nowhere close to doing justice to how funny that scene is. You are going to have to take my word for it.
As anyone would, Peter descends into despair, in a montage worthy of the Montage Hall of Fame, until finally deciding to head to Hawaii. He has to get away from his apartment, from everything that reminds him of Sarah.
Arriving in Hawaii, Peter discovers that Sarah is there too, at the exact same hotel, with her new shag-a-lot English rocker boyfriend Aldous Snow, played by Russell Brand.5
5 The man steals every single scene so effortlessly, you begin to wonder if this is really him, sort of how (at least according to legend), Matthew McConaughey was supposedly stoned the entire time he was on set playing Wooderson in DAZED AND CONFUSED.
Peter’s pride (what is left of it) will not let him leave, and Sarah is not about to leave, so in what would only happen in the movies, they try to co-exist with each other.
As I write the set-up, it sounds suspiciously cliché. Trust me: nothing could be further from the truth. I suppose in normal Hollywood Rom/Com6, Peter would spend the rest of the film stalking Sarah, trying to sabotage her new relationship. Eventually he would quit trying so hard, she would see what a great guy he really is, and then something would happen to make her realize her new guy was a total creep, and Peter would be there for her….
6 Romantic Comedy. I learned this industry jargon from Schrodinger, and wanted to seem hip and edgy, like her.
I digress. You have seen enough Rom/Coms; you could probably write 80% of how Hollywood usually does it yourself. That is not what happens here.
To start with, Peter meets Rachel Jansen at the front desk of the hotel, played by Mila Kunis. Rachel lets him stay in a $6,000.00/night suite free. She sort of feels sorry for Peter, as do many of the hotel employees, and a friendship develops between them. Again, this could have gone such the clichéd route, but the filmmakers manage to find new ground.
About Mila Kunis. She is absolutely terrific. Playing opposite a dazzling star-to-be like Kristen Bell cannot be easy, but she pulls it off. Actually, I suppose it helps that both ladies play against their “type.” I will admit it took me awhile to warm up to Mila Kunis at first, this but is mostly because she is responsible for two of the most detestable sitcom characters in history.7 I guess it’s not her fault she plays them so well.
7 Jackie Slater on That ‘70s Show and Meg Griffin on Family Guy. Nice to know there is more to Mila.
I think I mentioned the rest of the hotel. It is filled with the sort of oddball characters you only meet in movies, but what is wrong with that? Paul Rudd is another winner, as a brain-dead surf instructor. Another time I would sing his praises on end. I enjoyed them all, except perhaps Jonah Hill, an Apatow veteran of KNOCKED UP and SUPERBAD. Maybe it is I, as I have never warmed to him. In any event, the “big guys” are, as usual, the funniest.
The reason FSM works so well is because it goes against the instincts of most comedies. As I mentioned above, often we get the opposite of what you would except for traditional light fare. Another huge reason the story works so well is because of the suffering of the main character. There are several scenes that obviously come from real life, and it is not surprising that Jason Segel (who plays Peter), wrote the script.
Something else I liked: whereas other Apatow comedies feel inclined to push as many zingers into each minute, there are large stretches in FSM where nothing much happens. This sounds like “dead” air, but really, it is nice. Without such frenetic pacing, we are allowed to see the characters develop more, and that makes them even realer and more relatable.
I told you before that Kristen Bell and Mila Kunis are terrific, but it is Jason Segel (and his fantastic script!) who holds everything together. His suffering is real, almost palpable, and his willingness to throw himself on the rocks, as it were, is inspiring.
The best parts of the movie (that do not involve that crazy English rocker) involve Peter’s music career. He has always wanted to make a Rock Opera of Dracula. (With puppets!) Eventually we get a song from that production. It might have been the funniest part of the movie.8
8 Unless it was Peter’s other song, where he calls himself an idiot. I started choking I was laughing so hard.
I keep thinking of funny things to mention, except I know this review is running way too long. Pay attention to everything the English guy says, even if he’s hard to understand.9 Make sure you stay through the credits, at least until you see the new show on NBC10. Pay attention to what songs are in Hawaiian, which could spark a new fad.
9 At the very beginning, we see Aldous’s new music video, which contains him throwing cue card after cue card down, like that U2 video from a few years ago. (Kaida says Bob Dylan did it first.) One of the cards reads “Sodomize Intolerance!” which cracked me up so much I made it my motto on my home page.
10 The show is so bad I am scared that NBC will actually air it. And since I did not get time in the review to talk about it, let me briefly mention that the clips from Sarah’s “show” are downright hysterical. Argh! Too much to mention.
The bottom line: though completely ridiculous, the film feels real. It feels grounded, and the emotions ring true, as do many of the conversations. Tell me that “why did we break up” scene does not describe your life at some point. (Maybe now.) And the reconciliation scene? Fuggettaboutit.
FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL is the most complete adult comedy to come out of the Apatow lair yet. That is a good thing, and if you can live with a few F-words and whatnot, you should definitely see it.
But man, watch out for the rod. You never know when it will swing out at you next.