It would be easy to prejudge a movie like Forgetting Sarah Marshall, what with Judd Apatow on board as producer, a script written by Jason Segel, and Jonah Hill in the cast. You’ll think it’ll be about stoners, the female lead will be one-dimensional (and unlikable), and there will be several gross-out moments. Then you see it, and find out it has so much more to offer. On this, the 10th anniversary of the film’s release, we take a look back on this unexpected gem, and how it shattered expectations.
Jason Segel portrays Peter Bretter, the composer on CSI-styled police drama called, “Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime.” Peter is also in a long-term relationship with the show’s star, Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). When Sarah suddenly (and somewhat casually) breaks things off within the first few minutes of the movie, we are left reeling almost as much as Peter. After three weeks of unsuccessfully trying to fill the void with drinking and casual sex, Peter’s stepbrother Brian (Bill Hader) suggests he take a trip. Peter decides on Hawaii, and arrives at a lovely resort, only to find Sarah there with her new rock star boyfriend, Aldous Snow (Russell Brand).
What that setup doesn’t tell you is how original this story actually is, and how much heart it has. We’re not exploring uncharted waters, here, in terms of subject matter, but we are using a new map. Forgetting Sarah Marshall, is, at its core, a romantic comedy. However, there are dramatic moments that feel so real, they will break your heart.
You Don’t Hate Sarah Marshall
Perhaps being played by the genuinely likable Kristen Bell helps, but Sarah Marshall is not a one-dimensional “evil ex” character at all. Nor is she a perfect, angelic, Mary Sue type. Rather, Sarah is much more shades of gray, than she is black and white… like a real human. She hurt our protagonist, so we want to hate her, but we can’t. There are times we come close, though, like when we find out how much the relationships with Aldous and Peter overlapped. In general, though, we can see that Sarah was also deeply hurt by the breakup. She is heartbroken, but felt ending things with Peter was the only option she had left. Being the one to do the leaving doesn’t always make it easy, and her performance really captures that feeling.
You Don’t Even Hate Aldous… That Much
Sarah’s new lover, Aldous Snow, is someone we should loathe quite easily. He’s crude, he’s incapable of monogamy, his music is… not great, and most importantly, he broke up our Peter and Sarah! However, Segel and Brand have fleshed out a far more complex character, here. Aldous has a history of addiction, the recovery from which has helped him gain new perspectives on life (albeit a bit of a mashup of ideologies). He also actually does have a working knowledge of music, something he and Peter have in common.
There is a scene where Aldous tells Peter he heard a composition of his on Sarah’s iPod, and thought it sounded like, “…a Gothic Neil Diamond.” Peter states that is exactly what he was going for, and very reluctantly tells Aldous he’s cool. In this moment, the viewer feels the same as Peter. This warm and fuzzy feeling is quickly ruined by the next part of their conversation, but still… it’s nice.
We are further endeared to Snow, when he helps a couple of sexually repressed honeymooners also staying at the resort (Jack McBrayer, Maria Thayer). The couple is interspersed throughout the movie, and the audience has grown to both like, and feel badly for them, in equal measure. Aldous takes on the task of teaching the young virginal husband some moves, so he will be more comfortable with his new wife. It’s a hilarious sequence, yes, involving oversized chess pieces on a public beach, but it also helps us see there is some good in Aldous.
Winning the Breakup
When real-life relationships end, there is often a desire to “win the breakup.” Meaning, to be the person who heals first, who starts dating again, who gets back to being themselves (or even an improved version thereof). There is a scene in Forgetting Sarah Marshall that takes this concept, and makes it more of a literal competition. A contest to prove who is having a better time in bed, to be specific. Sarah overhears Peter and his new love interest, Rachel (Mila Kunis), being intimate in the next room. This bothers her, so she wakes up Aldous, and the… contest begins. What ensues is a ridiculous moan-off, the goals of which Aldous realizes, and stops Sarah. He tells her she’s clearly not over Peter, and he will be leaving for England in the morning. They reveal some not-too-nice truths to each other, and go to sleep.
It is clear from the flat emotions during this breakup that this relationship was not a loving one. Sarah seemingly won the breakup with Peter, since she dated a rock star, but really, she was just trying to survive it.
A Taste For Love: A Dracula Puppet Musical
Throughout the film, we see Peter working on writing a musical called “A Taste For Love,” based on the story of Dracula, starring puppets.
It sounds ridiculous (it is), but it is actually pretty good. It seems like a real musical, in the style of, say, Avenue Q. The musical’s main song, “Dracula’s Lament,” so expertly mirrors the themes of loss in this film, while being about Dracula. It’s really a well-done part of the movie, and it wouldn’t have been half as endearing or memorable without its inclusion. A Taste For Love is what turns Peter’s entire life around. He finds his confidence and passion, and creates something he is proud of, instead of just “dark ominous tones” for a TV show. He has channeled all of his baggage into his work, and comes out a much stronger person than the naked slacker we saw getting so spectacularly dumped.
This movie got somewhat lost in the shuffle when it came out, with some of its contemporaries becoming so popular, their lines are now part of the vernacular. Forgetting Sarah Marshall is not your basic rom-com, though, with characters and situations you’ve seen countless times. It explores enough of the classic themes to fit the genre, but it treads any charted paths lightly. This is a truly unique movie that has as much heart as it has humor, and it really holds up. It is just as fresh and fun now, as it was in 2008.
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