Apatow's work is proudly dumb while Coward's is proudly smart.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


            If you have fond memories of “Knocked Up” and “Superbad,” you probably should see “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” the final shot in Producer Judd Apatow’s effort to create the trifecta of American sex comedy. The jokes in this kind of thing are usually visual or verbal and always involve some variation of sexual aerobics. We have seen this story before in Noel Coward’s “Private Lives” – though that comparison is a bit of a stretch. Apatow’s work is proudly dumb while Coward’s is proudly smart.

            Peter Bretter (Jason Segal) is living in bachelor squalor when his girlfriend Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell) calls to say she is on the way over. After throwing the accumulated debris in the closet, Peter takes a shower to ready himself for the visit, exits the bathroom, all smiles, only to see a grim faced Sarah standing there, announcing she is dumping him. Peter, taken by surpise, is naked and remains so throughout Sarah’s breakup speech. If he put clothes on, he says, “it’s all over.” Stark naked, it’s still over.

            The inevitable march toward on-screen male nakedness began with Tom Hanks peeing into a bucket in “A League of Their Own.” After that, men and urinals became standard fare until now Jason Segal, who wrote the role he plays here, has opened the door for the full frontal that will now unfold relentlessly. Lisa Schwartzbaum of Entertainment Weekly has likened Segal’s physique to a “long, pale, uncooked dinner roll,” a vision far funnier than anything the movie has to offer.

            All that aside, the devastated Peter takes the advice of his step-brother Brian (Bill Hader) and heads for Hawaii to distract himself. Peter’s tears flow in a copious flood that so endears him to the hotel staff that they fold him into their feathers for safekeeping - especially the pretty receptionist Racheal (Mila Kunis). You will believe, I know, that Sarah Marshall and her new boyfriend, rock star Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) have just checked in. In the Coward scenario they end up in suites with adjoining balconies. From that point forward, the dialogue sags and never recovers.

            The central problem here is weak casting. When the hero of a raunchy comedy is a sweet, gentle giant like Jason Segel’s Peter, you better surround him with plenty of fizz. Segal is surrounded by an uninspired supporting cast. Russell Brand’s rock star is appropriately and obnoxiously awful; Mila Kunis’ receptionist is credible and game; but she who should have made the whole film fly – Kristin Bell – makes Sarah Marshall colorless and ordinary. It is hard to imagine her as the cause of Peter’s anguish. Except for a couple of fiery moments when her anger lights the match, the flabby story just gets tossed back and forth among people who do nothing with it. Credit Jason Segal with creating a quiet sweetness in a man and remember, he started it all here with his dinner roll.

 


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