Stephen Wilds

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Men are often worse when it comes to appreciating clever romantic comedies (myself included), but it’s such a relatable topic, as most of us have been there. It’s not common for these types of movies to have a man as the main character, however, and to give him a thoughtful arc. It’s rewarding to see someone go from greatness to rock bottom, continue to make mistakes, but actually learn from this and grow somehow. When we find a movie like this, it needs to be cherished and shared with others. Women might like it as well, but there’s something about a film for the vulnerable yet horny male in all of us. That’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall – a good sexy cry going fifteen years strong.  

The story is simple enough: Peter Bretter (Jason Segel) has it easy, and he’s a little too comfortable in his relationship. He’s the musical composer for the hit TV show Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime and dating its hot leading lady, Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). The problem starts when she breaks up with him. Peter doesn’t take it well, he’s not even wearing clothes when this happens, and the downward spiral is quite tragic. After some convincing that what he needs is a vacation, he’s off to Hawaii for some relaxing and to get his mind off of—oh that’s right, by movie coincidence, she’s at the same resort with her new rock star boy toy, Aldous Snow (Russell Brand). Thankfully, a lovely woman who works at the hotel, Rachel Jansen (Mila Kunis), takes pity on the dour and awkward Peter, setting up our odd love quadrilateral for comedy to ensue.

It sounds generic from the base description, a typical outing for the genre, and probably not something worth seeking out, but that’s where people are wrong. Forgetting Sarah Marshall is different. It follows a formula while coloring just outside of the lines, using the crayons others don’t like to. This script embraces the situational comedy at the expense of each character, exploring the more ridiculous and raunchy aspects of break-ups and new romances, setting out to fix the people involved rather than the coupling. It’s self-deprecation with spunk, and although it has a positive ending, the movie avoids making it cheerful or too serious. Hard to be when it begins and ends with Jason Segel’s penis.

One of the reasons why it’s easy to connect with Forgetting Sarah Marshall is that most of us have dealt with breakups in a horrible fashion before, or at least can see parts of ourselves in some of the interactions. For me personally, this movie came out during one of those times. Not only did it help me work through some of my lingering thoughts on that failed union, but it showed me it might not have been as good of a time as I’d originally thought anyway. I have trouble expressing myself or processing emotions most of the time, but watching Peter cry after random sexual encounters, become absorbed in trash TV to cope, and make the mistake of trying to sleep with his ex-lover again, only to have performance issues when the connection isn’t there anymore, was strangely cathartic. There’s a touching element here, something about finding yourself, what you really want, forgiving the person you were, and doing most of that growth while being naked.

“I need to B my L on somebody’s Ts.”

This movie is incredibly horny, so it understood me and a lot of other people well. When we think we’re over someone and the desire to move on hits, we are often sideswiped by those intrusive thoughts in the vulnerability of post-coital calm. Furthermore, it can be hard to see our own mistakes or why we shouldn’t go back when it feels like that’s what the universe (or the genre) wants. What I don’t get is how a guy who looks like this gets two stunningly hot women back to back or why some one-night stands keep saying “hi” during sex. Both are mysteries.

Another plus is that none of the characters feel completely shallow, even Aldous Snow, who is supposed to be. He gets his full arc in the sequel, Get Him to the Greek. During this film, however, Snow is presented as an obvious comedic tool, but given genuinely charming moments, and gets to be the voice of reason when everyone seems to know something is a bad idea. Like when Sarah agrees to sit with her ex and his new potential partner for dinner, Snow questions aloud if they’re actually going to let this happen.  

Just as Snow isn’t allowed to simply be the stereotypical new douche lover, Sarah herself isn’t completely portrayed as a foil for Peter. She has her own reasons for needing to be out of the relationship and is also trying to find herself and what she really wants, going on a similar journey as our main character, even if it seems at first like she’s having an easier time of things. A lot of people who have been in her position are probably sympathetic to her plight until her admission near the end at least.

The whole cast is solid, a young ensemble of funny people and fantastic cameos delivering most of these lines perfectly. Judd Apatow acted as a producer on the film and the comedy has his fingerprints all over it, with many of the scenes being improvised. The movie picks on serialized television a ton. I love Peter referring to Rachel as one of the girls from Flavor of Love, and when he makes fun of Sex and the City, one of the stars of that show, Cynthia Nixon, actually walks by in the background. The film is quirky, and just when it feels like they are done, there’s a meaningful subplot about a musical puppet show featuring Dracula. Segel is still serious about that thing.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall’s Lasting Legacy

Forgetting Sarah Marshall finds much of its heart in how personal the script was for Segel, who used several of his own past breakups as inspiration and direct scenes. One of those former relationships that the story seemingly pulled from was with former co-star Linda Cardellini, but Segel had positive comments for her as a girlfriend and assured fans that the interaction where he was dumped while naked wasn’t with her.

Originally, the movie was going to be a bit different. The part of Aldous Snow, played by Russell Brand, was actually written for Charlie Hunnam, who wasn’t feeling it and backed out. Segel’s How I Met Your Mother co-star, Neil Patrick Harris, was almost in the film as well, but the feeling was that audiences wouldn’t see the duo as anything other than their television counterparts. Also, there was more footage of Segel’s penis filmed because those are funny, but the scenes were cut down for comedic timing. For those who love the film, an extended and unrated version with six extra minutes of runtime exists.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall is outright enjoyable because it makes viewers feel something and is rejuvenating at the end, even if we have to go through the bad to get there. Revisiting it years later, the comedy holds up, and the romance still has some passion. My favorite new thing I learned about it is a perfect little detail for a movie like this. Part of the promotional material for it involved skywriting and billboards that featured messages like, “I hate you, Sarah Marshall” and “You do look fat in those jeans, Sarah Marshall,” which caused many women with that as their real name to be questioned about issues in their relationships. This was apparently so negative for some that they called the police, but I wonder if they ever saw the movie.

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Forgetting Sarah Marshall Is Still a Good Sexy Cry 15 Years Later