SXSW Movie Review: Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Judd Apatow’s camp comes through again with a comedy that is a lot smarter than you would initially think… [Grade: B+]
By  · Published on March 12th, 2008

As a reviewer of films, I always find the balance between managing expectations and formulating a final opinion to be a difficult one. As well, reporting on the movie news makes it even more difficult, as the hype around a film has the ability to skew the results of a review, at least for an amateur critic. But alas, I do love it when I go into a movie with relatively low expectations and come up pleasantly surprised — such is the case with Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

Basing my expectations purely on the marketing for the film, I got the sneaking suspicion that it was going to be a huge failure. I have always been lukewarm to Kristen Bell and director Nick Stoller has been completely untested. As well, a lot of the promotional stuff was rather bland. But after seeing this film, I can honestly say that I have been pleasantly surprised — it may not be a legendary Apatow-produced film, but it is far from Forgettable.

The story is well articulated in the previously released trailer; Jason Segel (Freaks and Geeks) plays Peter, a television show composer who gets dumped by his starlet girlfriend Sarah Marshall (Bell) and is forced to put his life back together as he copes (badly) with the loss. To get his mind off of things, he takes the advice of his half brother (Bill Hader) and heads to a resort in Hawaii, only to find that Sarah is there as well, with her newfound rock star boyfriend Aldous Snow (Russell Brand). And though he meets a local sweetheart (Mila Kunis), Peter finds it increasingly difficult to murder the memory of his former love.

It is an intelligent-enough screenplay, penned by Jason Segel, that works mostly because of a few top-notch comedic performances. While Jason Segel is generally good as our sulky leading man, but British mega-star Russell Brand steals the entire show with his over-the-top bravado and sexual energy. Brand lights up the screen in the same manner that Sacha Baron Cohen would in a similar role, with incredible charisma.

Kristen Bell does well enough to satisfy her legions of fans from her Veronica Mars days, but her funniest moments are not necessarily in her performance, but in the ironic similarities between the life of her character and her own career. Sarah Marshall has a hot television show that meets an untimely demise and her movie career is marred by an atrocious horror movie. The commentary is perfectly placed, as is much of the humor in the film.

Under the wing of any other producer, this movie would probably be too broad, too dumbed down and it would include less frontal male nudity (Jason Segel’s penis makes a few appearances). But with the extremely competent hand of Nicholas Stoller under the watchful eye of Judd Apatow and Shauna Robertson, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is sure to be a crowd-pleaser.

Grade: B+

Forgetting Sarah Marshall is the directorial debut of Nicholas Stoller, writer of Fun with Dick and Jane. It stars Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, Russell Brand, Bill Hader and Jonah Hill. It is rated R for sexual content, language and some graphic nudity (penis). It is being distributed by Universal Pictures and will hit theaters nationwide on  April 18th. It premiered at the SXSW Film Festival on March 10th.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)