Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the 10-Year Anniversary

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I’ve seen a lot of movies. While this may not seem revelatory for those reading a pop culture and entertainment blog, suffice it to say I’ve seen thousands. Comedies. Dramas. Good movies. Bad movies. “Gone with the Wind.” All three “Harold and Kumar” films. Ten different “Star Wars” movies. Westerns. Crime films. Film noirs. I’ve seen movies that have nearly frozen me in my seat after watching them due to their power and message (“Sophie’s Choice,” “Spotlight,” “Schindler’s List”); there were movies that I’ve walked out of (“Antz,” “You, Me, and Dupree,” “Epic Movie,” “Fred Claus”). I’ve seen a lot of funny movies (“The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Knocked Up,” “Old School,” “Zoolander,” “There’s Something About Mary”) and movies that tried to be funny but missed the mark (“Eurotrip,” “Funny People,” “Drillbit Taylor”). I’ve seen movies opening night in a crowded theater, opening night in an empty theater (“Scooby-Doo 2”), and movies by myself at 11 am on a weekday. I’ve seen Marvel movies, DC movies, indie movies, Tarantino movies, movies that tried to emulate Tarantino movies, and basically every Natalie Portman film under the sun. Some of these movies stick with me. Some are forgettable. Some were perfectly fine to watch on an airplane, or on Starz on some random Sunday. But ten years ago? Ten years ago I saw a movie that has stuck with me, that feels fresh every time I rewatch it. Because ten years ago, on its opening day in the theater, I saw “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.”

What’s funny is that I only became aware of FSM about two months’ prior to its release. In the summer of 2007, the Judd Apatow-produced “Knocked Up” and “Superbad” were both released, and so in 2008 there were Apatow movies being released pretty frequently (like I said, I’ve actually seen “Drillbit Taylor”). I liked Jason Segel from “Freaks and Geeks” and especially from “How I Met Your Mother,” and I only knew Kristen Bell from one half-season of “Heroes.” But it looked funny, and had the Apatow imprimatur, and so, one Friday when I was in law school, didn’t have class, and had finished my reading for the day, I took myself to the AMC Boston Common for a 3:00 p.m. showing of FSM. I didn’t expect the theater to be crowded, but I was surprised that I was the only one there. It didn’t matter – I laughed loud enough for all the empty seats as well.

Now, even if you’ve never seen the movie, there is probably one part that is in the cultural zeitgeist: the opening scene when Kristen Bell’s titular Sarah Marshall dumps Jason Segel’s character Peter….while he’s completely nude.

But, while funny, I actually think that’s the least funny scene of the movie. One of the reasons why FSM holds up is that, with the exception of the opening scene, every other scene is hilarious. It’s so rare that a movie has a funny moment in so many scenes, but, truly, almost every moment in FSM is laugh out loud funny. Take what happens next: Peter’s step-brother Brian (Bill Hader) comes to console him. Peter explains how Sarah had gotten him a large plastic container for his cereal so that it wouldn’t go stale, and now he has the freshest cereal. Brian and Peter go to a club, and the women Peter meets are idiosyncratic and totally funny. Even Peter showing up at work (as a musician on “Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime“) and ripping the screen apart at the thought of Sarah and Billy Baldwin together plays well. Or Peter seeing his doctor, a pediatrician:

What’s Peter to do but go to Hawaii to escape the pall that Sarah casts over his LA life? He interacts with front desk attendant Rachel Jansen (Mila Kunis), who gives him the kapua suite; fellow guest Darald (Jack McBrayer), who’s honeymooning; Matthew the waiter (Jonah Hill), who insists Peter will be bored eating alone; and Chuck/Kunu (Paul Rudd), the surf instructor, who has not only the best line of the movie but something I have made my life motto: “When life hands you lemons, just say fuck the lemons and bail.”

I won’t rehash the whole plot, mostly because I want to encourage those who haven’t seen the movie to actually watch it. It’ll explain why I giggle if someone randomly screams, “Dracula musical!” or says, “Iron your shirts, even your t-shirts,” or “Oh the weather outside is weather,” or “pop up!” or “my eyes, but not the shirt!” or “it’s mundane” or “the less you do, the more you do” or “You sound like you’re from London” or “she’s complicated – like ‘The Da Vinci Code’ – but harder to crack” or “I was gonna listen to your CD, but then I just went on living my life” or “Rachel Jansen, a thousand times, thank you” or “You know what else is cool? Me on the moon!” or “Aloha, bitches!” or “I think it’s going to be hard for her to reenter the pageant without a face” or “That man was me” or “and now I feel terribow” or “OK, Monster Man” or…you know what? Just watch the movie. It’s an amazing movie.

Sure, Peter gets down on himself – even realizing at one point he probably needs psychiatric help – but at the end of the day, it’s a story at its core about someone overcoming his problems. Peter’s sad about the break-up, and how that will fundamentally change his life (his work, his living situation, his romantic life, etc.). He takes a trip that at first can’t go any worse – Sarah’s at the same hotel, with Aldous, Peter’s alone and crying loudly enough for other guests to complain, and even though he thinks something might be happening with Rachel, she’s likely being nice only as part of her job. But Peter takes some positive steps: he tries to learn to surf, he performs part of his Dracula musical in public, and he hikes (albeit poorly). He quits drinking every morning, and he’s even in a good enough place to give Sarah life advice when their show gets cancelled. Despite how things end in Hawaii with Rachel, he even stages the Dracula musical in LA, and seems to finally get over Sarah, find some personal and professional success, and regain the happiness he had at the beginning of the movie.

Look, in the annals of cinema history, there are classic films – “The Godfather,” “Casablanca,” “Silence of the Lambs.” There are movies that are comedy classics – “Caddyshack,” “Animal House,” “Coming to America.” Maybe in 10 or 20 years, another movie will come along that’ll make me laugh as much as FSM, with as many funny lines. I actually had high hopes for “Get Him to the Greek,” only because I was excited to spend more time with Aldous. (The less said about that movie, the better.) But FSM, as its inferior sequel proved, really was a lighting-in-a-bottle movie – an amazing supporting cast, a great premise, and some timeless humor. So, for any doubters, anyone who hasn’t seen the movie and thinks it’s just so-so, and not worthy of all this discussion about it, who wants to try to hand me some proverbial lemons, I’ll respond in the genius words of Kunu:

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