Musician and composer Peter Bretter (Jason Segel: Knocked Up) is heartbroken over the breakup with his girlfriend, Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell: Heroes, Spartan) — he’s inconsolable, even. Fair enough; they were together for more than five years, so this seems, at first, like a reasonable response. So why does Forgetting Sarah Marshall taunt Peter for being emotional? Why, because tender emotions are the province of mere women. I mean, my god: A real man scarfs giant bowls of Froot Loops while lounging around in week-old sweatpants. A real man does not cry, at all, ever. Certainly not while trying to get his girlfriend to “talk” about her dumping him. Certainly not while having loveless rebound sex in an attempt to wipe from his mind the hurt she inflicted upon him.
It’s really hard to like a character when his own movie makes fun of him. And much comedy is mined here — if you find humiliation funny, that is — from Peter’s “sensitivity,” as if there were something funny about his pain and suffering. As if there were something funny about men feeling anything other than mindlessly horny 24/7. Which is truly bizarre a tack for Forgetting Sarah Marshall to take when its entire premise is built, apparently, upon the notion that it’s tough for a guy to get over heartbreak. So either it’s true that men feel more deeply than we’re “supposed” to think they do, and hence are worthy of our sympathies, or they don’t, and hence deserve to be jeered at for being woosy girly men. Which is it?
Oh, but you’re not supposed to “think” about a movie like Forgetting Sarah Marshall — in fact, it’s better if you don’t think at all. Then, perhaps, you’ll actually find it shocking and outrageous when Segel appears full-frontally starkers for no reason that makes sense within the context of the ostensible themes of the film, and makes sense only of you’re not paying particular attention to anything except your own desire for a juvenile grossout. (Not that there’s anything gross about the human body except in the eyes of movies like this, of course.) It’s better if you don’t think too much because then you can ignore the ridiculous coincidence that sends Peter, in his continuing attempts to forget Sarah, on a vacation to a resort in Hawaii… where Sarah and her new boyfriend just happen to be staying, too. And definitely don’t think too much about why Peter doesn’t just turn around and leave, go somewhere else… except, of course, that there wouldn’t be a movie if he had done that. But that’s an excuse we’ve heard a lot of these days when it comes to idiotic movies, and it just doesn’t cut it: If there wouldn’t be a movie if not for the absurdity of its own premise that the writer couldn’t be bothered to justify within the context of the story, then, you know, maybe there shouldn’t be a movie at all.
But wait. It gets worse. A sincere depiction of a sensitive male romantic lead would be a welcome thing, but Peter is an unappealing drip — though it’s hard to tell whether that’s because the movie doesn’t like him very much or because he’d have been a drip anyway. And we have absolutely no evidence of anything that brought Peter and Sarah together in the first place — we have no idea what they ever saw in each other. Peter’s moaning and moping, which gets more unbearable and more unbelievable the more he puts himself in Sarah’s path, appears to be the result of the screenwriter mistaking tedious minutiae for honesty. (The screenwriter is first-timer Segel himself; the director is his fellow Undeclared vet Nicholas Stoller, also making his feature debut.)
And yet, as if, apparently, to make up for Peter’s unrelenting and unpleasant dreariness, the movie is stuffed with random pointless asides about, oh, bartenders who know all the fish in the area and pothead surf instructors and sex-crazed British rock stars. Paul Rudd and Russell Brand, respectively in the latter roles, are the best things here, are full of snappy energy and offbeat charm that the rest of the movie lacks, but it’s like they’ve been imported at great expense from another story entirely. They only highlight how much Peter’s tale feels like it’s dragging itself through goopy mud… and how little it can barely even bother itself to make the effort.