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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

What an interesting experience Forgetting Sarah Marshall is. Granted, it’s a romantic comedy first, and written by actor (and the movie’s leading man) Jason Segel, best known as Marshall on tv’s “How I Met Your Mother,” but it is also a lot more. At the time I saw it with my always perfect husband, we laughed ourselves silly because it is full of all kind of jokes and over-the-top situations you can’t help but enjoy, yet underneath it all Segel has done something more. He’s written a primer for those of us old married folk who don’t really understand much about modern day relationships. Geez, things have gotten tough.

It used to be so much easier to break up with someone. First, you actually married that person before you lived with them for five years. Then you could call an attorney, he’d call one, and a whole lot of acrimony would ensue, but in just a few months, restraining orders would be in place, friends would be divvied up, and financial settlements ground out bitterly. Once the gavel went down, you’d never have to see the other party again. Now, though, with couples like Peter Bretter (Segel) and Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell; tv’s “Heroes”), things aren’t nearly as simple.

First off, it doesn’t help that the two both work on the same television series. Sarah is the star of the fictitious show “Crime Scene: Crime Scene Unit” where Peter is the musical scorer of each episode. Naturally, she gets all the publicity and glamour while he is treated like the big schlub in the corner holding her purse or getting in the way when she is posing for the paparazzi. My father taught me only two, well, three important things in his life. The lesson pertaining to this situation would be something along the lines of “Never poop where you eat.” (The other two lessons, in case you care, involve fingerprints and bloodstains, but I’ll save those for another time). Anyway, even once Sarah dumps Peter, he still can’t get away from her ~ or at least her face, movie-sized, on the screen in front of him ~ in the music-composing studio. What could be worse?

Then there is the problem of the friends. They always mean well, don’t they? God bless the friends.
You’ve got the warm charm of Peter’s stepbrother and BFF Brian Bretter (Bill Hader of tv’s “Saturday Night Live”), telling him the woman he thought was the love of his life was a wretched witch (only a whole lot more R rated) and that he and his wife always hated her. Heck, Peter’s even got his former girlfriend’s new guy trying to be his pal. The dimwitted and callous British rocker Aldous Snow (Russell Brand; Penelope) seems oblivious to the innate wrongness of his schtupping Peter’s recent lady love while wanting to become chummy with Peter, who is still dying inside of a broken heart.

The worst of it though is that even when Peter flies all the way to Hawaii to catch a break from his suffering he ends up in the same hotel, and eventually in the room right next door to the vapid Sarah and her boy toy Snow.

While the story walks on jagged glass and yanks at the heartstrings, Segel does wonders at
balancing the pathos of Peter’s grief by introducing some exceptionally funny other characters on the sidelines whose on-going shtick play like harmony to the main story’s melody. There’s Darald (Jack McBrayer, aka Kenneth the Page from tv’s “30 Rock") and Wyoma (Maria Thayer; Accepted) as very, Very, VERY inexperienced newlyweds with a need for some quick post-wedding sex education, and there’s Paul Rudd (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story) as Chuck, a surfing instructor who apparently retired millions of his brain cells in a bong fog somewhere but who deems himself some kind of self-styled relationship guru (even if the advice he offers is the same every day to everybody). Rounding out the peripheral characters is the equally rounded out Jonah Hill (Superbad) as Matthew, the resort’s restaurant host and would-be music superstar. When Matthew is not pointing out to Peter how miserable he must feel being dumped by a “hot chick” like Sarah, he is stalking her new boyfriend to get his demo tape to the musician with the dream of getting Aldous to launch his new career and make him the next big rock musician to make the big time.

The most refreshing surprise besides Segel’s writing talent and great ear for dialogue has got to be the performance of Mila Kunis (Boot Camp) as Rachel Jansen, the front desk clerk who takes pity on Peter when she realizes his awkward circumstance being in the same hotel with his just-ex. Perhaps because Kunis is mostly remembered from her bimbo role on tv’s “That 70s Show” or for having starred in a string of forgettable crap like American Psycho II: All American Girl, it’s a delightful revelation to see her here as an adult, three-dimensional woman who can mend hearts and break them all at the same time. She proves that it doesn’t take a siliconed-celebrity to make a man feel like he’s with the most gorgeous woman in the room.

As for
Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the character, I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want to. I asked my husband to write down five things that he thought about her and I’d do the same, then we’d compare:

My Perfect Husband ....................................................Me

She's hot .........................................................She dresses like a tramp

She plans stuff so her boyfriend.........................She's manipulative
doesn't always have to figure things out

She uses sex to get what she wants....................She uses sex to get what she wants

She's rich........................................................ She's easy

She's easy...................................................... .She's a tramp

Obviously, this explains everything you need to know about the differences between men and women. One thing you will have in common is that you’ll both really enjoy this one, but don’t be too shocked when you see two very different purple-headed critters make surprise appearances in the movie: Jason Segel’s penis pops up (well, not really *pops* up) in the first part of the picture and a Dracula puppet arrives in the last few minutes. Both are a bit startling at first, but they grow on you. Just ask Mila.

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