16 May 2008

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

“I’m finding it hard to believe that things are going to get better.” If you’re familiar at all with the plot of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” you might assume that this line is spoken by the main character, Peter, who has just been dumped by his girlfriend, Sarah Marshall. But it’s not spoken at all. It’s sung. By a puppet.
It’s an appropriate gesture for a film that doesn’t necessarily wear all its feelings on its sleeve, though Peter does. After getting dumped we see him break down crying, probably more than any other male character ever seen on film. He’s not your traditional masculine protagonist.
He’s sensitive, and so is the film. Produced by Judd Apatow and written by actor Jason Segel, who also plays Peter, it’s the kind of comedy that has a lot more underneath than it wants to let on at first. It doesn’t indulge in stereotypes or easy laughs, though there are plenty of laughs to be had.
The plot is quite simple. Peter, tries to get away from his pain by going to a Hawaiian resort that he remembers Sarah (Kristen Bell) talking about once. Of course she’s there, with her crude English rock star boyfriend Aldous Snow (Russell Brand). Awkwardness ensues.
As Peter attempts to get over Sarah, he starts to fall for a customer service representative named Rachel (Mila Kunis), and quickly bonds with her and the other colorful characters who populate the hotel.
One of the strengths of the film is the supporting cast. Whether it’s an oblivious surfing instructor (Paul Rudd), a star struck waiter (Jonah Hill), a nervous conservative newlywed (Jack McBrayer), or Peter’s overly-sensible stepbrother Brian (Bill Hader), there’s always someone around the corner to console Peter and provide some laughs.
Unfortunately the laughs aren’t always very consistent. The blend of comedy and poignancy is not always balanced, and a few of the jokes now and then fall flat. It’s not as polished a film as it could be, or should be considering those involved.
But still, there’s a lot going on here, and if you pay attention it’s worth your while. For instance, watch the character of Sarah Marshall. You start the film wanting to hate her because of how she left poor Peter. But instead of letting her remain a villain, Segel’s script lets her have her own feelings and conflicts, and we gradually see why she initially made the instigating decision.
The same can be said for Peter, in a way. We pity him as sort of an underdog, but eventually realize it’s of his own doing. The film doesn’t answer all the questions of how he got to be who he is, and the story is better for it. Ambiguity isn’t a staple of modern comedies, so it’s nice to see it here.
Still, there’s plenty of crude and unusual humor, culminating with a hilarious climactic scene involving the aforementioned puppets. I won’t spoil it for you here. Good comedies rely on surprise, but also remind us why we should care. Though it’s not perfect, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” will most likely prove to be one of the better comedies of the year.

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