Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)
Starring: Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, Russell Brand, Bill Hader, Liz Cackowski, Jack McBrayer, Maria Thayer, Jonah Hill
Directed by: Nick Stoller
First and foremost, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is a pleasant piece of entertainment, delivering some genuine laughs, both of the clever and the doubled over varieties. I enjoyed myself immensely while watching it, and feel it will be the sort of comedy that I will enjoy rewatching several times. That said, there are some issues that keep it from reaching the next level that it had the potential to meet.
Heavily promoted under the Judd Apatow name brand, the film fits well within the producer’s oeuvre. But while much of the film follows the by-now predictable Apatow template, the man neither wrote nor directed the film, so I should give credit to director Nick Stoller and writer/star Jason Segel for what works in the film now, before I spend the rest of the review talking about producer Apatow.
What keeps Forgetting Sarah Marshall from achieving its full potential are the things that have come to feel familiar from Apatow productions. It’s overly long at 112 minutes for a comedy, overindulging what should be cameo roles by Apatow-featured players Jonah Hill, Paul Rudd, and Jack McBrayer, while underdeveloping the female leads played by Kristen Bell and Mila Kunis, all the while servicing a largely predictable plot about amiable dudes and the hot chicks who love them.
Luckily, it also features the positives that one has come to expect from the best Apatow productions. Its long running time allows for comfortable moments with characters, allowing us to live in their world and get to know them without feeling rushed from bit to bit. This allows for diversions like Peter’s (Segel) webchat bits with his step-brother Brian (Bill Hader), or the constant mocking of CSI-type shows that pollute the current TV landscape through the fictional show starring Kristin Bell’s Sarah Marshall and her David Caruso-esque co-star played by Billy Baldwin. Moments like these, while not essential to the moving action of the film, are what make the best Apatow productions feel so endearing, and are often the bits you continue to discuss with friends long after you’ve forgotten how predictable the final outcome of the film ended up being.
Another key Apatow trait brought to Forgetting Sarah Marshall by Segel and Stoller is the genuine warmth and affection it has for its characters. The movie wants us not only to enjoy and appreciate the presence of its lead Segel and his buddies, but also makes sure to present his foil’s Sarah and her new boyfriend, pop star Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), as likable characters as well. It’s a seemingly simple formula: comedies are enjoyable when viewers enjoy the characters in them, but it’s a rule many comedies can’t seem to follow, instead presenting odious human beings the film proceeds to put through the ringer via pratfalls and embarrassment to generate laughs. It’s not that this film is short on pratfalls or embarrassing situations for its characters, in fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a movie that puts its characters in situations more embarrassing than those Peter finds himself in, or an actor as willing to humiliate his or herself as much as Segel does in this. The key difference is that because these are enjoyable characters, we actually feel for them in their humiliation and struggles, instead of simply waiting for them to suffer more pain for our amusement because they are otherwise insufferable.
I’ve been of fan of Segel for a while now from his stints as Nick in Freaks and Geeks, Eric in Undeclared, and especially Marshall in How I Met Your Mother, and am pleased to report that his brand of good-hearted goofiness translates well to the big screen. Bell brings solid presence to a role that would normally played as an unforgivable bitch, but doesn’t get enough opportunity to present the brassiness she previously displayed in Veronica Mars. Besides Segel, the standout in the cast is Russell Brand, who takes a character who is designed to be an insufferable douche, and injects him with the perfect amount of humour and a surprising amount of depth (in that he has any at all).
In all, it amounts to a movie I very much enjoyed, even while its flaws are readily apparent. It’s a film that could’ve used a bit more tightening up, while still allowing some room for the casual tangents that make Apatow productions special. More often than not, it delivers that which you expect from a comedy: memorable laughs, genial characters, and inspired comic pieces, which combine to make the film as a whole a definite success, even if it just misses the mark of true excellence.