Forgetting Sarah Marshall – Borderland Review

forgetting-sarah-marshall-movie-poster.jpgDracula in a Comedy about Recovering from Lost Love?

Jason Segel (KNOCKED UP, BYE BYE BENJAMIN), the scripter and star of FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL, is definitely a fan of risqué comedies and somewhat of a raconteur, as his association with the Judd Apatow school of filmmaking demonstrates. However, he is also a fan of science fiction and fantasy, if his little homages are any indication. In MARSHALL he mildly references a few of our favorites from that realm. Some may not be readily obvious, so you’ll need to keep your eyes & ears open. Being a member of the geek-boy club though, I gotta admit to smiling when they popped up. There is even a clever and funny commercial for a science fictiony type of TV show called ANIMAL INSTINCTS starring one of the main characters of the film that runs during the end credits.

Oh, but that ain’t all. Get this: the main character of the movie is a musical artist who unwillingly scores and plays obnoxious droning tones for a hip television crime drama while dreaming of realizing an ambition he has to write and direct a musical version of Dracula…with puppets! Great concept, I says to myself even before going to see the movie. In fact, I could envision an entire big screen extravaganza being made by the Jim Henson Company based on that wild little theme. And speaking of the Jim Henson Company, the folks there actually designed and built the puppets used for the scene in which Jason Segel’s character, Peter Bretter finally gets to put on his puppet Dracula musical. (Segel was trained in puppeteering so he could operate one of the puppets during the scene.) Of course they look great. Heads up though: you don’t get to see this goofy idea played out until the end of the film, and it doesn’t resemble a Muppet movie or the old MUPPET SHOW all that much. It’s a small artsy-looking stage play performed in a small art house theater, and the puppeteers are readily visible, dressed in black as they try to function as part of the background, while at the same time acting along with the puppets they control. So they’re kind of dressed to hide, but also not.
There’s a charm to the whole idea, but there’s also something a bit narcissistic about the artsyness in it and the way it feels as it’s being played out. (But maybe that’s just me. I’m sure the look & feel has more to do with Peter’s budgetary constraints.) However, I suppose a feeling of narcissism would be rather fitting because the whole movie has the same feel to it, at least to some degree. It’s all about the guy who writes music for that crime drama I mentioned and his efforts to recover from having been dumped by his girlfriend (played by the pretty and talented Kristen Bell from TV’s VERONICA MARS and HEROES), who just happens to be the famed—and beautiful—star of the show. To get away from everything, he unwisely chooses to go to Hawaii because his ex always talked of what a lovely place it was to escape to. (That’s the stance the movie ultimately appears to take on Hawaii—those who go there or live there are trying to run away from something. In the end, Peter’s new friend bares this idea out.) Unfortunately, Peter winds up running into his ex and her new boyfriend, a very famous British singer-songwriter, nicely portrayed by Russell Brand (TV’s ROBBIE THE REINDEER IN CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE HERD KIND, ST. TRINIAN’S).
The cast is well chosen and all give very good performances. Segel’s script is well written too; it’s refreshing to see several minor characters getting their moments in the spotlight. I so often lament the fact that many characters in films are relegated to a status little elevated above props. But in Segel’s film everyone is a true individual. And yes, it’s got humor and a certain amount of heart. Plus, Kristen Bell and Mila Kunis (TV’s ROBOT CHICKEN, the voice of Meg Griffin on THE FAMILY GUY), the girl Peter meets in Hawaii, are mighty easy on the eyes. A lot of people are going to enjoy this film quite a bit.
Still, I have to confess to feeling a bit like Travis Bickle, Robert De Niro’s character in TAXI DRIVER while watching the thing. Part of me was repulsed and depressed by the crudeness of the film and the self-pitying of the main character, while part of me was enjoying the openness, humor and cleverness of it. But in truth, a bit of me must be what some might call a prude, I suppose, for it was the former element of my character that ultimately won out. I hate using the word prude, though; I prefer, oh, to state that I have a sense of modesty and morality, but I know how I’ll be labeled so I’ll just save others the trouble. Heck, some may even wish to call me a Philistine. At any rate, being from the Apatow factory the movie definitely has a sense of humor that leans toward the edgier end of things, though it’s not as crude as some from this group. But it sure ain’t for kids. With that in mind, let me throw out another little warning: it ends the same way it starts, with the viewers glimpsing full frontal nudity of Peter. In fact, you see him nude from just about every angle imaginable…just so ya know.
Something else that really bothered me, and me alone it seems, was the fact that many of the characters in the film behaved in one fashion while working in public, but became little more than foul-mouthed animals when off the clock. For instance, Rachel, the girl Peter meets in Hawaii, acts as though she holds no grudges against her ex-boyfriend at one point, but when she sees him later in the film she reverts to a swearing, arm-flailing wild woman. And the waiter who was so nice to Peter just that morning hauls off and decks him that night—when all Peter wants to do is stop the craziness & talk—because he happens to be buddies with the girl’s ex. Then later back at the hotel when Peter and the waiter meet up again it’s as if the previous barbarity never even occurred; the two completely separate worlds seem perfectly acceptable. There’s also the bar owner who beats Peter within an inch of his life because he takes down a picture of Rachel exposing her breasts (ya don’t dare mess with the “artistic balance” of this guy’s men’s room).
I guess I couldn’t get over the point that these very characters are the type of folk who would denounce many world activities in one breath while demonstrating the very traits that help lead to larger world confrontations in another…albeit on a micro level, of course. Many will no doubt say I’m daft, yet if we’re truly introspective and honest about ourselves it’s these little subtleties in human nature that lead to the bigger issues in which we continually find ourselves. We just choose to ignore them; or worse, we don’t even see them. And yes, I was also put off by what the film was willing to show, discuss and poke fun at. Frankly, I found myself missing the great Billy Wilder.
Oops, I’m sorry if I read so much into this comedy, but that’s what went through my mind and I know it will be going through the minds of certain others. If all that’s more than you wish to ponder in the film’s regard, then let me just offer one more irritant that’s a bit more down to earth. Peter was not the sort of guy I can see attractive, strong women being drawn to. He was a winey self-absorbed, depressing sort, and he couldn’t get a grip on himself after being dumped by someone who “used him as a glorified bag handler” at public functions. He continuously balled like a baby. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had to deal with many things a whole lot worse than that in life (and death) and I never collapsed like that. Nor did I destroy thousands of dollars worth of property that wasn’t mine (he mutilates an expensive projection screen at one point). So I don’t know why it is we’re supposed to feel for this guy. Though undoubtedly some female viewers and reviewers will relish in what they see as a fresh look at the male human species. Still, as a guy, I just kept thinking, snap out of it! But then again, there’s always that puppet musical of Dracula.

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FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL (Universal Pictures, 2008). Director: Nicholas Stoller. Screenplay By: Jason Segel. Producers: Judd Apatow and Shauna Robertson. Executive Producers: Richard Vane and Rodney Rothman. Director of Photography: Russ T Alsobrook. Editor: William Kerr. Production Designer: Jackson De Govia. 115 minutes. Rated R (sexual content, language and some graphic nudity). Cast: Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Russell Brand, Mila Kunis, Paul Rudd, Jonah Hill, Bill Hader, Jack McBrayer, Liz Cackowski, Taylor Wily, Da’Vone McDonald, Steve Landesberg, Kala Alexander.
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