WFTB Score: 5/20
The plot: Successful actress Sarah Marshall leaves her musician partner Peter for outrageous, thrusting rock singer Aldous Snow. Devastated, Peter takes a break to Hawaii, only for Sarah and her new beau to turn up, flaunting their happiness in his face. Comely receptionist Rachel takes pity on Peter and the pair form a bond; but if he can’t forget Sarah, theirs is destined to be a holiday fling.
Domestic layabout Peter Bretter (Jason Segel) is devoted to Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell), a TV actress on the show Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime, for which he writes incidental music. Sarah gets fed up of Peter’s inaction and ends their five-year relationship, sending Peter into a spiral of despair and meaningless sex, despite the advice of his step-brother Brian (Bill Hader). Peter decides to take a break in Hawaii, but – wouldn’t you know it – Sarah turns up, with Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), swaggering, cocksure lead singer of rock group Infant Sorrow in tow as her new squeeze. The shock of seeing Sarah with Aldous initially makes Peter overdo the alcohol and self-pity; but hotel employee Rachel (Mila Kunis), who helped Peter stay at the hotel in the first place, slowly helps to bring him out of himself, encouraging him to move on and make headway with a project he’s been working on, a Dracula musical with puppets. Rachel has her own ex- troubles, so Peter is good for her too; but will the news of Crime Scene’s cancellation, and Snow’s unexpected departure from the resort, prove too much of a temptation for the easily-led composer?
Although there were flaws with Seth Rogen’s Ben in Knocked Up or Will Ferrell’s Ron Burgundy in Anchorman, a certain amount of comic talent seeped through. The same cannot be said for the lead in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Jason Segel (perfectly bearable elsewhere, I should add) comes across as a bad actor with very little talent for comedy, using the fact that he’s been gifted the star role in a movie to live out his strange, exhibitionist fantasies. Why on Earth does anyone, except for his partner and his doctor, need to see Segel’s penis? It’s not big, it’s not clever, and the idea that Segel – solely credited as writer – thinks his own cock is comedy gold is deeply, deeply disturbing. But this seems typical of Segel’s style, as he also seems to think that Jason Segel having sex with lots of women is hilarious, Jason Segel blubbing constantly is hilarious, Jason Segel failing to surf (after instruction from a deeply unfocused Paul Rudd) is hilarious, Jason Segel playing the piano badly is hilarious, and so on. But this is typical of Judd Apatow productions, and Segel is not alone in being allowed to witter on without being remotely funny: Bill Hader is particularly unappealing as Peter’s step-brother; and there are scenes devoted to a pair of newlyweds (Maria Thayer and Jack McBrayer) which add nothing whatsoever to the film, save for a few unwanted extra minutes of witless vulgarity.
Worse still, the film suffers from appalling double standards. When Peter first sees Sarah and Aldous in Hawaii, he’s appalled that she has moved on so quickly – yet we have seen a succession of Peter’s one-night stands which he has – bless him – endured since the break-up. Of course, the justification turns out to be that Sarah has been cheating on him for a year, which merely displays Segel’s utter shallowness as a writer. Sarah turns out to be a bitter, cold woman and we are encouraged to wish her ill; by contrast, Rachel is pretty much a stock character, a hottie implausibly fancying a big, shabby, boozing, crying lump – I wish I could pin it down to a title, but I’m certain there’s at least one other movie in which a shlub has a secret dream which he’s too shlubby and depressed to realise, until motivated by an attractive woman who is unaccountably drawn to him, because of/despite his shlubbiness, to spruce himself up and live his dream after all* (as it turns out, Peter’s Dracula musical is a poorly-written, mostly two-chord affair). There is the small matter of Rachel’s topless photograph on display in the loos of a downmarket bar, but it’s not as if she’s being blackmailed for it so when Peter retrieves it, it’s pretty slim redemption for what he allows to happen with Sarah.
You might wonder whether there are any redeeming points to the film. Well, Hawaii and Kunis look pretty, and maverick dandy skeleton Russell Brand has a fun time playing with the English language. If, as must have been the case for 99.9 percent of Americans, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is your introduction to Brand, you may well find his way with words, his unabashed frankness – and his accent – completely hysterical. Indeed, all the best lines are his, and he’s far and away the best reason to watch the film. Stoller’s decision to make Get Him to the Greek is entirely understandable (though it’s harder to see where he saw much talent in Jonah Hill, who plays sycophantic waiter Matthew here); there was certainly no more mileage in Peter’s story. Hell, there’s not even enough of that for this film.
I am/was a huge fan of The Forty-Year-Old Virgin, but with each new Apatow production I’m starting to wonder if that movie just got very lucky, and whether the combined charm and talent of Steve Carell, Catherine Keener and Jane Lynch blinded me to its nasty sexist streak. For whereas Get Him to The Greek made me want to see Forgetting Sarah Marshall, I can’t forget this film quickly enough.
NOTES: Perhaps the reason I can’t pin it down to a single title is because it’s such generic wish-fulfilment. However, it’s about 70% Swingers, 30% The Break-Up, and 0% original.