Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)

Watchable

Content written by Tony Macklin. Originally published on May 1, 2008 in Fayetteville Free Weekly.

Ok, I give up. The Slackers win.

In the last ten years, the Republican Party has had its revenge, the Nerds have had their revenge, and now the Slackers stand sloppy and tall.

I stand poleaxed.

The latest beating inflicted on my psyche is by "Forgetting Sarah Marshall." It's the most recent movie from the Judd Apatow flabby gene pool.

Apatow is the Pied Piper of Slacker Nation. He is a producer who did the smart, engaging television series "Freaks and Geeks" (1999 2000), followed by "Undeclared" (2001-2002).

He produced and directed "40 Year Old Virgin" (funny) and "Knocked Up" (somewhat funny). He produced "Drillbit Taylor" (not funny), along with several other moderately amusing concoctions.

Apatow created a franchise flattering the flabby and forlorn. Obviously they are legion.

Apatow has overseen the ascension of the slackers-- in his movies, he has gotten them babes, gotten them laid, and had them impregnate. One doubts that we need more slacker spawn.

In "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" -- the latest movie Apatow has produced (this time directed by novice Nicholas Stoller) -- we are given the sodden message that it's all right for slackers to sob. Incessantly.

The protagonist Peter Bretter (Jason Segel) is a cross between Baby Huey and Tiny Tears. He whines, weeps and mopes. We, on the other hand, cringe.

Peter is endlessly embarrassing, and endless embarrassment is a tiresome bore.

What causes Peter's annoying angst is a breakup with Sarah Marshall, his girlfriend of five years. It took her five years, it took me five minutes.

Slacker alert -- we later find out that a major reason for her decision is that Peter had spent a whole week in his apartment in sweat pants.

The break-up scene has gotten some attention, because Peter is in the nude. Put on those damn sweat pants, Peter.

"Forgetting Sarah Marshall" might have been provocative in the 1940's, but in 2008 the frontal nudity in the opening sequence is merely a small surprise. Should we whoop and giggle? When nudity is repeated later it's less of the same. Was I robbed in my youth by not seeing Jerry Lewis in the nude?

Sarah Marshall is the star of a CSI-type television show, for which Peter composes the music. He also is writing a musical about Dracula with puppets.

When Sarah drops him, Peter goes on a dirge of one-night stands, but he is still lost in whimpering distress. His brother Brian (SNL's Bill Hader) suggests he should go away on a trip, and so Peter travels to Hawaii.

Guess who is with her boyfriend at the exact same resort? If you guessed his ex, you have as fertile an imagination as Segel, who also wrote the screenplay.

Peter then becomes a slacker stalker. So what do Apatow and Segel have in store for their slacker audience?

A babe, of course.

Why not two babes?

First, the female concierge Rachel (Mila Kunis) takes pity on Peter and creates a relationship for him with her. Yeah, right.

When Sarah Marshall realizes what she's missed -- a slacker in a Hawaiian shirt -- she is smitten again. She then furiously tries to get him back with oral determination. But, alas, he's slack.

Overall, the raunch in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall is slack. A continuing theme is that a naive Christian (Jack McBrayer) reluctantly is introduced to sex's darker limits on his wedding trip to Hawaii.

One amusing aside is that a TV ad for "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" ran for a long time, until somebody finally got the necklace allusion. It suddenly disappeared from the ad. Now that's funny.

If you're not a slacker, there are several things that may frustrate you about "Forgetting Sarah Marshall."

I think the talented Kristen Bell deserves better than being turned into a desperate pawn. TV's Veronica Mars would have patted Peter on the hand and quickly gotten out of there after the first date.

Also, Apatow's bench players keep showing up. Please Judd, don't give Jonah Hill any more roles. You've proven the point that anyone can be in a movie. Hill trolls through his dull paces as the intrusive waiter at the hotel.

Apatow seems to love the idea of giving second-raters a start. Nicholas Stoller is a second-rate first-time director, and Jason Segel writes and “stars” for the first time. I'm sure scrawny Apatow veteran Jay Baruchel is waiting in the wings. God help us.

Unfortunately, the two most talented, most interesting performers aren't the leads. British actor Russell Brand excels as Aldous Snow, an obnoxious singer, and Mila Kunis is fine as Rachel. They humanize their wayward characters.

Segel's contrived script is best with these two characters. It's also successful with Peter's stage play, but it comes too late. The puppet show about Dracula that Peter has composed is inventive, but by the time it appears, we have had to swallow more tears than Dracula has blood.

"Forgetting Sarah Marshall" lets us know that slackers have flaccid equipment, and they can cry oceans of tears. And slackers are not as interesting as puppets.


You might be interested in reading my most recent reviews, all of my reviews from this year, or all of my reviews from last year.

For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).


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