Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Lowdown: An authentic love triangle story.
It is nice when someone surprises by doing well when you’re not really expecting much of them. Jason Segel, a co-star in the rather mundane How I Met Your Mother TV series, is a case in point: Not only does he conduct himself well as the lead role in the feature film Forgetting Sarah Marshall (FSM), he also wrote the movie’s script. And although you can argue there is not much that we haven’t seen before in FSM, I argue that it is probably the most authentic love story I have seen on film for a long time if not ever; I will argue it’s a fine comedy, too.
Segel plays a guy who, for the last five years, has been the partner of Sarah Marshall. Although a successful musician by his own rights, he is overshadowed by celebrity Sarah, because – as everyone knows – Sarah Marshall is the star of the successful TV series “Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime” (not to be confused with “Crime Scene: Phoenix”). However, life as Segel knows it ends in the film’s opening scene, when Sarah Marshall pays him a visit to tell him in person that she’s breaking up with him.
At first Segel tries to convince Sarah to stay with him, but quickly enough he moves over. Or tries to, otherwise the film would not be called Forgetting Sarah Marshall: Wherever he goes, he’s always looking for his Sarah; even in bed. Obviously, he needs to get over Sarah to get on with his life, so he decides to go on vacation to this resort in Hawaii that Sarah used to brag about. And guess who’s staying there, too, with her new super successful rock star of a boyfriend (played by Russell Brand)?
Thus the drama develops, with Segel constantly moving from yearning to hatred and with another girl fitting into the picture quickly enough. Overall, what we have here is a drama telling the story of a young man trying to find himself after someone he relied so much is suddenly removed from him, your classic broken heart story.
The edge to FSM comes from three main directions. First, there is the comedy element, spearheaded by jokes on Sarah Marshall’s TV show and very well augmented by the comic talents of Russell Brand.
The second and the third edges are closely related and work together to make FSM a unique film in its genre: an authentic film. On one hand there is the film not caring much about political correctness and sporting many a sex scene and much nudity, including male nudity. Both sex and nudity are welcome ingredients to the world of cinema by virtue of the fact that both are a part of ordinary life (yet for reasons I won’t delve into here, this basic fact is regularly ignored by the Hollywood institutions); in the case of the story at hand they are crucial because of the sexual gap left open with Sarah Marshall’s departure from Segel’s life.
On the other hand we have a script that provides us with hero characters who, for a change, are actually life like. No, I’m not talking about Sarah Marshall herself; her being a TV star has obviously been positioned her in the non authentic realm, a sort of a distant star mortal men can never reach. She is there to show us that the dream girls from TV are actually nothing special in real life. I’m also not talking about her star of a boyfriend that stole her from Segel. I am, however, firmly talking about Segel’s character: not only is he portrayed as a normal guy, shortcomings and all (quite a lot of them, actually), his actions all make perfect sense. As in, he is put through some dilemmas and such, but I could easily see myself doing the exact same things he did were I to put on his shoes. It’s the circumstances that put him under rather tight decision making scenarios, but just like me Segel’s character likes a life devoid of uncertainties; and just like I aspire to be, Segel’s character is a decent guy. The main trap avoided by FSM but frequented by most other love triangle films is that of the hero cheating on his/her lover for no particular reason other than him/her being way too stupid to pass as a real life character; or rather, for the stupidity of the script writers, who think they can get away with very improbable behavior. Not in FSM, and not by Segel; his character definitely follows modern day cultural trends, but it is also very authentic.
Mix all these ingredients up, and you have yourself a very pleasurable film to watch.
Memorable scene: Segel goes to have dinner at a restaurant on his own, only to confront waiters that first cannot believe he is partnerless and then make a big fuss of it. It used to be such a familiar scene for me!
Best joke: It’s worth repeating – “Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime”.
Technical assessment:
The Blu-ray’s picture is detailed yet has some color matching issues and the DTS HD soundtrack is easy on the ears and pretty clear but light years away from exploiting the lossless format’s potential. Pretty standard for a Judd Apatow production.
As per what seems to pass as Judd Apatow productions' standard, FSM’s Blu-ray comes with an extended version (which is the one we’ve watched). It also comes with a large array of well thought of supplementals, which – for a change – actually proved fun to watch. The best example I can think of there is additional scenes exploiting the “Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime” motif.
Overall: This is what romantic comedies should be like. 4 out of 5 stars, a lot of which due to the so well produced Blu-ray presentation.

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