Nicholas Stoller’s directorial debut Forgetting Sarah Marshall is a romantic-disaster comedy – at a time brilliantly funny and tragically sad.
Jason Segel is Peter Bretter, a man so in love with his beautiful TV-star girlfriend, Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell), that he believes his world has fallen apart when she suddenly dumps his sorry arse. To escape his pain, Peter takes an impromptu trip to Oahu’s luxurious Turtle Bay, where he finds himself simultaneously in Hawaiian heaven and break-up hell upon running into Sarah and her British rock-star boyfriend, Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), who are staying in the same hotel.
To forget Sarah Marshall, Peter attempts to lose himself in cocktails, sobbing fits, and a seemingly innocent flirtation with the beautiful resort employee Rachel Jansen (Mila Kunis). As Peter is forced to witness his ex’s new relationship, he finds relief in new friends and, eventually, in a new outlook on life.
The dark comedy of Peter’s personal disaster is both hilarious and raunchy. The viewer is torn between feeling Peter’s despair and wanting to tell him to suck it up and be a man. However, even the hardest moments in Peter’s saga are cleverly masked with comedy. Stoller shoots several full-frontal nude shots of Segel during Peter and Sarah’s breakup, making the scene awkward, hilarious, and sad all at once. (He brings the breakup full circle at the film’s close, again shooting a nude Segel, but this time with the hope of a potential new love.)
Each of the supporting characters has a very specific backstory and a personality that is both unique and laugh-out-loud funny, e.g., an extremely religious newlywed who does not know how to sexually please his new bride, a wannabe vying for Aldous Snow’s attention, and a stoner surfer who prefers his Hawaiian name, Kunu. Although Peter seems to be stuck in his worst nightmare, the cast provides never-ending comedic relief while supporting Peter on his quest to forget Sarah Marshall.
Although Forgetting Sarah Marshall depicts the breakup primarily from the male’s point of view, there is a sense of extreme honesty in the script when Sarah finally tells Peter her side of the story. At that point we see not only that Peter is not completely innocent, but that Sarah Marshall can be both hate-able and loveable. In a completely messed-up situation, each person is trying to do the best they can – and the situation itself is understood as multi-dimensional.
The film’s most pleasant surprise is the lack of moments that had been beaten to death in the commercial build-up prior to its release. There are no “You do look fat in those jeans Sarah Marshall” declarations or cracks about Peter being a loner. Many of the clips used in the advertising campaign wound up on the cutting-room floor, allowing the film to retain a sense of freshness and comedic surprise.
With a talented cast of comedians, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is a thoroughly honest look at the reality of post-breakup heartache and a comedic luau not to forget.
© Lauren Creamer
Lauren Creamer is a writer and translator with a passion for French culture.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008). Director: Nicholas Stoller. Screenplay: Jason Segel and Judd Apatow. Cast: Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, Russell Brand, Bill Hader, Jack McBrayer, Paul Rudd, Liz Cackowski, Maria Thayer, Jonah Hill, Steve Landesberg, Billy Bush, William Baldwin, Jason Bateman.