Forgetting Sarah Marshall

This movie reminds me of that famous Steve Buscemi line from the opening of Reservoir Dogs. “Dick-dick, dick-dick, dick-dick, dick!” A cavalcade of uninspired penis jokes–going so far as to scorch our retinas with the sight of star Jason Segel’s. Forgetting Sarah Marshall also represents a dubious landmark in the history of the Judd Apatow Comedy Factory.

It’s the moment when the uncomfortably increasing misogyny finally crosses over into outright stalker fantasy. Frankly, its male-female relationships make more sense if you accept them as the pathological hallucinations of a nerdy, nice-guy Travis Bickle. Here, in Zagat’s form, is roughly what the press materials say about the plot: Peter Bretter (Jason Segel) has his world “rocked” after his girlfriend of six years, the television star Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell), dumps him.

“To clear his head,” Peter heads for a Hawaiian resort “where he is confronted by his worst nightmare!” Sarah and her new guy, a highly sexualized British rock star, are staying in the same hotel. “But as he torments himself with the reality of Sarah’s new life,” he strikes up a relationship with Rachel (Mila Kunis), a “beautiful resort employee” with a “laid-back” approach that “tempts him to rejoin the world.” (You know it’s not me, when you see the word, “rocked.”) I describe the plot thusly: Shit, my ex-girlfriend dumped me. I loved her last week, but she’s a total bitch today.

Did I mention she’s a television superstar? Because I’m the type of dweebish schlub who can pull the gorgeous television hotties. What? Oh no. This isn’t all in my head. And she still has feelings for me. Yes she does. And if I just happen to arrive accidentally at the same Hawaiian resort hotel – because these things are always accidents – she won’t mind me hanging around for the weekend. And by the way, have I mentioned that her new boyfriend is a sex-crazed lunatic who’s going to dump her as soon as the next good thing comes along?

Moving on to the next thing, that’s not a problem for me. And believe me, I’m the only one who really understands her. Who can comfort her. Who knows what she needs. When she’s done with him, she’ll come crying back to me. But by then I’ll be dating that pretty girl at the front desk. Yes I will. Because like all pretty women, she has a thing for unattractive mopers with passive-aggressive tendencies. And when the superstar tries to get me back, she’ll be punished for her error in judgment, in a way that legitimizes my creepy behavior. Heh, heh.

That’s the way this works. You kind of figure this guy will end up in front of David Letterman’s mansion, swearing he has borne him children. Vulgar humor isn’t an automatic violation of screenwriting decorum. But even vulgar humor needs standards. When vulgarity is used to outlandishly accent a perceptive observation, it works. When it isn’t, it doesn’t. It reverts to locker room humor. I think you can tell from my tone which one applies here. Of course, it doesn’t help that Segel (who wrote the script) and the rest of the actors are far below par.

There’s probably more humor here than the bland eye-candy cast has the talent to pull off. Take the ending, a would-be-crazy Dracula puppet musical. It’s funny, but like much of the occasional funny stuff, it’s about two or three degrees less funny than it should be. You suspect the idea seemed more gut-busting when it was thought up, perhaps over reefer. You see many bad movies, but some are actually dangerous. Those are the films that lower our standards, but for some reason are held up as glowing examples. I fear that that is the destiny of Sarah Marshall.

For my money it would be best if she were simply forgotten.

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