Why We Can’t Forget Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Oh, the weather outside is weather!
Forgetting Sarah Marshall Retrospective
Forgetting Sarah Marshall turns 15 this month. This ensemble comedy was directed by Nicholas Stoller and produced by comedic dynamo, Judd Apatow. Jason Segel wrote and directed the movie, cementing himself as a comedic lead in this 2008 hit.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall grossed over $150 million at the box office. It was well-received by both critics and audiences. It struck just the right balance of raunchy and endearing, thanks to Segel’s tight script and the synergy of the talented cast. While Forgetting Sarah Marshall may look like a breakup story on the surface, Segel adds clever devices that make the writing and execution of the script stand out from other films in the genre.
Peter Bretter (Jason Segel) is a musical composer and boyfriend of rising television star, Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). When Sarah breaks up with Peter, he sinks into inertia and depression. Desperate to find himself again, he travels to Hawaii for a change of scenery. While at a Hawaiian resort, Peter finds that Sarah and her new boyfriend, Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) are also guests. Hijinks ensue as Peter tries to avoid the new happy couple. Peter befriends some staff at the hotel and finds romance with front desk clerk, Rachel Jansen (Mila Kunis). However, Peter learns he may not show up in relationships the way he thinks he does.
The A-list ensemble comedy with electric chemistry
Forgetting Sarah Marshall has a A-list cast from the comedy circuit of the 2000s. While this could have overshadowed newer actors, the cast gelled satisfyingly. Segel was well-known for acting in cult favorite Freaks and Geeks. While Kristen Bell is best known for providing the voice of Anna from Frozen today, back in 2008, she was best known for playing teen detective Veronica Mars. Forgetting Sarah Marshall gave Bell the opportunity to test her comedic chops alongside other talents, and her efforts stood out.
This film was also a jumping point for others actors in the comedy sector. While Brand acted prior to Forgetting Sarah Marshall, his role as Aldous Snow is arguably his most memorable. He played the character with a subtle nuance and humor that was mesmerizing to watch. Brand had a remarkable stage presence that wasn’t lost alongside the other comedic talents. His comedic timing was impeccable and his one-liners and monologues are some of the most memorable moments of the film. His monologue questioning a killer cellphone horror plotline was a hilarious highlight of the movie.
Aldous Snow could have been an overacted caricature, but Brand portrayed him with the right notes of sincerity and curiosity. Brand’s portrayal of Aldous Snow was so well-received by fans that a Forgetting Sarah Marshall spinoff, Get Him to the Greek, was released in 2010.
Peter is a flawed, yet sympathetic character. Segel did a masterful job of bringing him to life in script and on the screen. Segel’s physical comedy was on point. His naked breakup scene with Sarah, the montage of him holding Sarah’s various purses on the red carpet, and his drunk reenactment of Sex and the City characters added new layers of hilarity to the film.
Segal inverted the usual romantic comedy script to show the stages of grief in a breakup from a male perspective, which was novel for the time. He didn’t hold back on his crying scenes throughout the movie. There’s an undercurrent of honesty and relatability to Peter that resonated with the audience. Segel plays Peter with the right amount of humor and guilelessness, which balances out his flaws of immaturity and lack of self-awareness. Segel is a charming leading man, and his chemistry with Kunis was pitch perfect.
Secondary characters added more comedic zest
Instead of making the movie a vehicle for himself to shine, Segel created opportunities for the other actors to showcase their comedic talents. Even the secondary characters stand out in the story and on screen.
Bill Hader’s put-together performance as Peter’s stepbrother, Brian, was the perfect foil for messy Peter. The scenes where Brian teases Peter were entertaining and felt authentic to their brotherly relationship. Paul Rudd’s short but memorable moments on screen as Chuck, a surf instructor with the memory of a goldfish, gave the audience a new appreciation for Rudd’s comedic range. Darald’s (Jack McBrayer) innocent naivety was a comedic goldmine of opportunity. Matthew’s (Jonah Hill) imitation of Aldous Snow was spot on, and didn’t feel overdone. The characters played their roles with singularity, which allowed the actors to experiment successfully with different modes of comedy.
The cast fully leaned in to the physical comedy. Aldous Snow gyrated like a rock star, Darald awkwardly navigated a life-size chessboard, and Matthew bumbled around. The physical humor nicely complimented the notes of dry, slapstick, parody and sarcastic humor throughout the film. The characters showed different comedic facets with depth and nuance, showing the audience there’s truth to be found in the absurd.
The ingenious Dracula puppet musical
The Dracula puppet musical was one of the most innovative comedic plot devices in the film. It was mentioned within the first ten minutes of the movie as Peter’s unfinished passion project. Peter performed a song from the Dracula musical for Rachel, which helped the audience see the potential of who Peter could be with purpose and drive. When Peter realized his inertia was a contributing factor to his breakups with Sarah and Rachel, he set out to finish the Dracula puppet musical.
The final scene of the film showed the opening night of Peter’s completed musical. The Dracula puppet musical was even more genius and hysterical than the audience could have imagined. This is where the synergy of Segel’s writing and acting truly shined. By threading the Dracula puppet musical throughout the movie, it became an allegorical device to represent Peter’s healing and finding purpose in his own life. The musical was a medium for Peter to move through his grief productively and allowed his character development to finally take place. The final production had an Avenue Q aesthetic, which fit with Peter’s demeanor and comedic range.
When the musical came to fruition and Peter and Rachel met once again, their relationship felt earned. While some romantic comedies depict toxic relationships, having a main character decide to work on healing himself first before jumping into a new relationship was truly novel for the time.
Throughout the past 15 years, many comedies have graced big screens and streaming services alike. But there’s just something about Forgetting Sarah Marshall that makes it impossible to forget. It just might be the Dracula puppet musical.