Ah, the break-up. An inevitable part of the human experience often causing some sort of mental, emotional, or spiritual damage. Forgetting Sarah Marshall is one of the funnier break up movies of late. Sometime Pop Theology contributor Wendy Arce has absolutely fallen in love with it to the tune of four viewings. I’m glad she’s put the love to good use. Read on for her review.
In Jason Segel’s hit screenplay, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, audiences expecting a good laugh will get more than they bargained for. Sure, the film aptly entertains its audience throughout, as viewers can relate to Jason Segel crying in fetal position on the floor or the post breakup optimism of not wanting to permanently delete your digital photos, just in case you get back together. Who hasn’t been there after a harsh break up? We can laugh at our common experiences with Jason, because he portrays them so well, and his witty one-liners give us a taste of perfect situational humor. Yet two things that this movie offers separate it from simply another funny film, a la Superbad, or the “freak pack” Knocked Up, and provide a message through the madness. The first is a statement of nudity in film, and the second is a deep look at hope even in the darkest of times.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall opens with Peter Bretter (Segel) flexing pecs in the bathroom mirror, saying “Good for you, Pete.” Good for you indeed! As he serves himself a big bowl of cereal to start his day, the camera cuts to pictures that document happy times with his girlfriend Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). From sweet pictures to funny Christmas cards to cheesy homemade calendars, we get a sense that the “Good for you, Pete,” refers to more than just his pecs. Peter has a great, famous girlfriend, and everything seems to be going his way.
However, a storm is looming. Right after he showers, Sarah comes home to break up with him. We quickly learn later that Sarah has been involved with someone else, thus ending her five-year relationship with Peter. What a painful blow! Normally this would be a very depressing start to a movie, but Segel turns it around by completely exposing three times. Thus, my first point. Normally, films that exhibit any type of sexual content via language or image bombard the audience with numerous clips of gratuitous female nudity, significantly more exploited than its mail counterpart. So instead of gratuitous boob shots, Forgetting Sarah Marshall begins with three full frontals of Jason Segel. The audience can only laugh and make light of a truly heart-breaking situation. Of course, Segel’s witty dialogue and situational humor draw laughs as well, but the unexpected image of the nude male form on film shocks the audience into laughter.
My point does not end here. The film ends with a fourth quick full frontal shot of Segel, as if to book end the movie. Though high in sexual content (with a sex montage of Segel getting out and “fucking anything that moves” as his pediatrician suggests and shots of Peter and Sarah’s Hawaiian “sex wars”), the only female nudity we see are the highly exploitative pictures of girls in the men’s room at the Lazy Joe’s bar, including a picture of Rachel Jensen (Mila Kunis), Peter’s Hawaiian love interest. She claims that her jerk of an ex-boyfriend coerced her into posing for it and that it remains posted against her wishes. It seems symbolic that the only real gratuitous breast shot in the movie symbolizes coercion and exploitation. Additionally, as Sarah Marshall faces a career crisis, she says: “The only actresses that can survive are the ones that show their cooter, and I refuse to do that. Excuse me, but I have a little dignity. And my frame will not support plastic surgery; I would tip over. I will not be exploited!” The commentary on nudity in film continues! Could this be a coincidence or Jason Segel’s deliberate choice? Regardless, I think this reading raises some questions of gratuitous male and female nudity in film regarding what we are trained to expect in film and why and how we react when the “abnormal” is presented.
My second point takes us in a different direction – a discussion of hope. Soon after we meet Peter, Sarah devastates him by ending their relationship. He cries, has rebound one night stands, and lives in an increasingly disheveled apartment. He is at his wit’s end. He decides to take a trip to Hawaii only to find Sarah and her new boyfriend Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) vacationing in the same resort. This guy can’t get a break! His luck changes, however, when the gorgeous hotel receptionist, Rachel Jensen, gives him free accommodations in the best room in the hotel so that he can enjoy his time in Hawaii (and look good in front of Sarah and her new boyfriend). Unfortunately for Peter, it is a small resort and primarily a destination for vacationing couples. As a result, he constantly runs into Sarah and Aldous. Again he starts crying, constantly drinks, and grows increasingly unhappy.
However, he soon decides to spend more time with Rachel, and we slowly see their relationship grow. He begins to realize how great Sarah is and begins to forget about Sarah, who quickly realizes what she has lost. After three weeks of being depressed, Peter begins to take in the therapeutic beauty of Hawaii, fosters a relationship with Rachel, and begins to see life beyond the misery of his break up with Sara. As Peter says during a hike with Rachel, “[I don’t want to do anything] because my heart is broken…. Maybe its good we got hurt like that – it kinda makes us impervious to pain.” Sure, for most of us, it may take more than three weeks to find someone new, and we might not find a man or woman akin to Kunis’ attractiveness during a vacation to Hawaii. On the other hand but we can the hope that time truly heals all wounds and that at the end of the day (and the movie), we will see that the person that broke our hearts really wasn’t right for us after all.
Peter eventually realizes that Sarah was not a good fit for him and not only makes a connection with someone else, but after some time and some more heart ache, gets his life back together and writes the Dracula Rock Opera, “A Taste for Love,” that he has been struggling to finish. Peter moved on, lived his dream, and became a success. Sure, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is optimistic, but sometimes in the depths of our post-relationship hells, we need a bright and optimistic light to help us realize that hope is on the horizon. As Chuck/Kunu (Paul Rudd) says: “If life gives you lemons, fuck the lemons and bail.”
Forgetting Sarah Marshall (112 mins.) is in theaters everywhere and is rated R for, you guessed it, nudity, sexual content, and language.