Forgetting Sarah Marshall

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Review (6.5/10)
(By Erin Cullin)

As anyone who is a parent to a child under the age of five can attest, once you begin sharing your residence with a toddler, uninterrupted leisure time becomes like an oasis in the desert.

Once upon a time, B.C. (Before Children), I enjoyed a bit of "personal time" outside of work. I travelled. I cooked. I read. And, there were a handful of television shows that I enjoyed taking the time to watch during the week.

Now, of course, a "weekend getaway" requires a month of planning. Dinner comes from the frozen food section. Margaret Atwood and John Irving have taken a back seat to Dr. Seuss. The small screen in our house has been hijacked by the likes of Thomas the Tank Engine and Sesame Street. And I love every minute of it - well, almost every minute.

On Monday nights at 8:30 p.m., I have thirty minutes of designated leisure time. During that one-half hour, I have a date - with ABC's hidden gem - "How I Met Your Mother". In the desert that currently calls itself Prime Time Television, it is my oasis.

Much like "Friends" before it, "How I Met Your Mother" is the perfect marriage of writing and casting. And, much like "Friends", it will also be the jumping off point for one of Hollywood's future power brokers. On "Friends", it was Jennifer Aniston. On "How I Met Your Mother", it is Jason Segel.

After dipping his feet into film with a supporting role in last year's sleeper hit, "Knocked Up", Jason Segel has now jumped into the pool head-first by both writing and starring in this week's new release, "Forgetting Sarah Marshall".

"Forgetting Sarah Marshall" tells the story of Peter Bretter (Segel), a professional musician who is suffering through the breakdown of his relationship with his celebrity girlfriend, Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). His efforts to escape his grief with a week in Hawaii are quickly thwarted when he encounters Sarah and her rock star beau, Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), frolicking on the manicured grounds of his resort. Just as Peter begins to despair that he will never move on, he finds comfort in the company of Rachel Jansen (Mila Kunis), a hospitality co-ordinator whose own relationship woes give her a unique insight into his pain.

For a freshman effort as a screenwriter, "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" is a respectable addition to Jason Segel's Hollywood resume. It is not the funniest film that I have seen (nor does it even make my "top ten" list), but it is a decent romantic comedy that is sure to earn Segel credibility as a bankable film star. The fact that it is produced by Hollywood's current king of comedy - Judd Apatow - probably does not hurt either.

Segel's screenplay offers nothing original to the romantic comedy genre, choosing instead to follow the tried and true "boy meets girl" format. This is enough to carry the film without completely losing the attention of the audience, but will be a disappointment to anyone hoping to see groundbreaking cinema.

What Segel loses in his formulaic screenplay, he compensates with the use of some witty scenes and dialogue. I say that, however, with one caveat - much like "Knocked Up" and "Superbad", this is a film that is likely to appeal to a certain type of audience. Some of the dialogue and the film's situations are crass and vulgar, and are likely to offend all but the most liberated of viewers. Fortunately, it has appropriately been assigned a "restricted" rating, so parents can sleep easy knowing that their teens are not receiving a locker-room caliber lesson in human relationships. This is a film that is perfect for twenty-somethings, is likely to raise the eyebrows of thirty-somethings and is certain to offend anyone who is over the age of forty.

It is the actors that breathe life into Segel's characters that really make "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" a watchable film. Jason Segel adeptly demonstrates that he has the acting chops to carry a feature-length film. His comedic acting style is comparable to that of Billy Crystal - he seems to have a gift for portraying the lovable goof that the audience wants to see succeed in spite of himself. However, the film's true revelation comes in the form of Russell Brand, a comedic gem who I expect will soon become a fixture in Judd Apatow's film family. I also enjoyed the performance of Apatow regular Bill Hader, who stole every scene in which he appeared.

Kristen Bell and Mila Kunis were well-cast, but added nothing exceptional to the film, although this is not the result of a lack of effort by either. As is the case in most Apatow films, their characters were one-dimensional. Perhaps it is time for Apatow and his posse to consider adding a female voice to their writing team, particularly if they are planning to continue making romantic comedies.

"Forgetting Sarah Marshall" is a crude, but cute, romantic comedy, that is likely to appeal to a narrow audience. In the spectrum of Judd Apatow films, I would describe it as Apatow Lite. While it certainly redeems Judd Apatow's reputation as a producer of audience-worthy comedies (a reputation that was tainted by his recent flops, "Walk Hard" and "Drillbit Taylor"), it still pales in comparison to original projects like "Knocked Up" and "Superbad". I think that true Apatow fans are going to have to wait for the release of this summer's "Pineapple Express" to see his special brand of comedic genius at work.

As for "Sarah Marshall", well, let me just sign off by saying this - its title is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is a film which is amusing enough while you are watching it, but as the end credits roll it is, quite simply, forgettable.


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