For the first half of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, I laughed out loud almost nonstop. Deliciously rife with Apatowian elements — bumbling self-deprecating characters, bawdy jokes, "call-'em-like-I-see-'em" bits of social commentary — it's a satisfying parade of sarcasm and sight gags. It even begins with a shamelessly, utterly nude Jason Segel, a move I fully admire. Yet somewhere along the line everything starts to lose steam, and it's hard to care much about any of the characters — least of all our schlubby protagonist. And sure, it's still funny, but — awesome musical puppet interpretation of Dracula notwithstanding — the heartbeat of the film weakens tremendously.
Of course, for many people this won't matter, and the fact remains that it's still a good comedy in that it makes us laugh. But is it a tight story with great characters? I'm not so sure. In case the extremely pervasive marketing techniques for this movie never permeated your consciousness, here's the story: Pete Bretter's (Segel) TV actress girlfriend Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell) breaks up with him. Grief-stricken, Pete sleeps with as many women as possible before finally deciding a trip to Hawaii will better help him forget Sarah Marshall. But when he reaches the lush, beautiful hotel, there she is — with her new boyfriend, Brit rocker Aldous Snow (Russell Brand). Awkwardness ensues as Pete obsesses over Sarah and also tries to avoid her. Enter hot girl hotel employee Rachel (Mila Kunis) who is happy to take Pete's mind off Sarah, which only ignites Sarah's jealousy. Soon, Pete must decide what — and who — he thinks will make him happiest.
For more of my take on it all, read more.
In a largely character-driven comedy, the problem is that we're not entirely sure how to feel about most of the characters, and eventually we give up and feel nothing. This is a directional issue that most afflicts our main twosome, Pete and Sarah. I get the feeling that I'm supposed to hate Sarah, but frankly, I just can't. She shows a vulnerable side, opening up and crying to Pete about what made her break up with him and though her reasoning seems sensible, we're still supposed to hate her. Also, by the time it all comes out, we've been so entertained by all the slapstick and silliness that we end up judging and mocking Sarah's vulnerability, and it feels awkward. So, maybe it's not so much that there is no heart to the story, but that it comes too late to take very seriously.
Same goes for Pete's journey. When Rachel inspires him to jump off a cliff into the ocean (after they've talked about him taking risks with his career, insert heavy-handed life metaphor here), I find it difficult to care about what's going on with him. The following montage of scenes indicating that he's on the up and up (he attends a stranger's wedding! He swims with kids! He refuses alcohol!) rings empty, and again, I can't seem to care about this guy. Thus, whether or not Pete ends up with Rachel, a character I find to be incredibly obnoxious and, well, trashy, isn't something that concerns me in the least, especially since, while he's a relatively nice guy (or, "too sensitive," as Rachel so helpfully puts it), he's sort of a blah person. As the epicenter of an entire narrative, he doesn't quite manage to hold it all together.
There is one character who is both well-defined and endlessly entertaining, and that is Sarah's new man, Aldous Snow (Russell Brand). This is the perfect situation: a fantastically gifted comedic actor combined with a solidly formed character. At least with Aldous we know where he stands and what he's about: egotistical fame-hungry rock-n-roll personality by day, tireless lothario by night — all the while maintaining this relaxed comfort with the world, this assumption that pleasure will find him. This movie won't make it to my DVD collection, but I do want a clip montage of Aldous Snow-isms to cheer me up on sick days.
Bottom line: It's not my favorite comedy ever, but the character of Aldous and a bunch of funny jokes make it more or less worth the price of admission.
To see the trailer and more clips from Forgetting Sarah Marshall check out movies.ivillage.com.