Painting Forgetting Sarah Marshall as simply a hilarious and rewarding experience, which it is, would be ignoring its most precious and unique asset of understanding the complexities of human nature. Most Hollywood movies can figure out various ways to make an audience giggle through various gags, gross-out or otherwise, but they often do this at the expense of their characters’ development. Forgetting Sarah Marshall is wonderful because it never degrades these people by forcing them to engage in conduct simply to get a laugh. These are real individuals with hearts and minds that have been either shattered or badly damaged through the hardships of life.
Jason Segel is extremely likeable as Peter Bretter, a composer for the hit television series “Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime,” starring his longtime girlfriend Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). The constant jokes derived from the mockery of such current shows as “CSI” create some of the film’s biggest laughs. This includes William Baldwin’s dead-on impersonation of David Caruso, along with the tough talk aimed at dead villains.
Peter is completely content with the life he and Sarah lead until she comes in one day and unabashedly states, in an ashamed tone, “You know I love you.” This indicates to Peter that something might be terribly wrong in their relationship. This scene, which Segel does naked, could have been a trainwreck if the laughs it contained were placed above the sympathy the audience feels for the self-destruction of this seemingly innocent man. As the revelation comes out that Sarah is seeing another man, the humiliation that is present in Segel is given true dramatic weight, while still miraculously being funny because of the physical state Peter finds himself in despite these unfortunate circumstances.
The film vividly illustrates how breakups affect people and their attitudes toward others in which deception is always a possibility in their mind. Peter is at first seen as a man recovering from a breakup he had no part in, but as he and Sarah talk, it is made obvious that his lack of desire to do anything had a part in their separation.
As the audience understands the emotional trauma these characters have been through, they begin to realize the depth to which their hurt reaches. Peter, at first seen as blameless in the breakup, has flaws that come to the surface as his dependency on others is revealed. The only character without a scene of true tension is Aldous simply because his character is impervious to stress.
Both Sarah and Rachel might be thought of as easily labeled at first until the audience begins to understand more about the thoughts and fears that constantly accompany them. Rachel appears to be an easy going person at first glance, but we see the hurt she continues to suffer through in a moment of rage directed at her ex-boyfriend after his infidelity. Sarah will be labeled as a diva by most moviegoers at first glance, but her elitist persona is designed to cover up insecurities she feels about both herself and her career that lurk just beneath the surface.
The best scene in the film, and the one where we truly see the most vulnerable side of these women, is when Sarah expresses her deep admiration for Peter to Rachel, who is stunned by her honesty. Rachel is almost speechless in this scene, partially because she is caught off guard and also because of her inability to fully express her feelings about Peter at that instant. This scene is the most perceptive because of its capacity in revealing the intricacies of these characters in a brief, but unknowingly pivotal moment in both of their lives.
In a way, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, reminds me somewhat of a grosser version of Down and Out in Beverly Hills, the 1986 comedy in which a rich white family befriends a homeless man without the full understanding of what they will find out about themselves. Although the two may seem different, they both start with familiar concepts and seemingly predictable characters and turn them on their head, while saying something poignant about family in Down and Out in Beverly Hills and relationships in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Some critics have complained that the ending to Forgetting Sarah Marshall is interminable, but it actually allows its characters to think about life-altering decisions before making them. Because there are no swift solutions in life, the conclusion to the film is a little lengthy, which is what makes it perfect.