The out-of-nowhere comedy that explored relationships, surprised audiences, and brought back The Muppets

Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each film using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest writers and fan comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.

The Pick

Recently celebrating its 10th Anniversary, Forgetting Sarah Marshall first appeared to audiences as yet another raunchy “R in the theater, Unrated on DVD” comedy of the era, but as this week’s responses clear show, the film has earned a reputation as a heartfelt exploration of the ups and downs of relationships. Recently dumped by his famous celebrity girlfriend, deeply depressed Peter (Jason Segel) goes to Hawaii to try to forget his troubles — only to find his ex (Kristen Bell) is staying at the same hotel with her new beau, a pop music superstar (Russell Brand). But love is a strange thing, and Peter unexpectedly connects with the hotel’s cheery hostess (Mila Kunis) — a relationship that may be doomed from the start by the reality that besets any vacation romance.

Besides being a great film, Forgetting Sarah Marshall has also proved to be a showcase for both contemporary and up-and-coming comedy stars, with supporting turns that include Jack McBrayer, Paul Rudd, Bill Hader, Jonah Hill, Kristen Wiig, and others — plus some surprise cameos.

Speaking of surprises, it’s also clearly the launchpad for the most recent cinematic revival of The Muppets, and you can see here the fusion of Segel and Stoller’s hilarious yet empathetic storytelling with musical puppetry.

Next Week’s Pick:

We’re beyond thrilled by the most excellent announcement that beloved rock & roll loving, time-traveling duo Bill and Ted, last seen on the big screen in 1991’s Bogus Journey, will be returning for a long awaited second sequel, Bill and Ted Face The Music.

We can only hope that the scene-stealing, fan-favorite Grim Reaper himself, Death (the great William Sadler) will also return, not unlike a band called Death was discovered by listeners decades after essentially creating punk rock. OK, the connection’s a little thin but in honor of the rock & roll spirit of Bill and Ted, we’re watching my favorite film of 2013, the incredible and inspiring true story of A Band Called Death!

A Band Called Death is available to stream on Vudu (ad-supported).

Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at) anytime before midnight on Thursday!

Our Guests

Husain Sumra:

I am in awe of this film. It’s a rare modern comedy that doesn’t feel like it’s built on riffs. There’s a tendency in modern comedy to point a camera at a couple characters and just have them improvise funny things, then cut and move on to the next scene.

Instead, Forgetting Sarah Marshall’s best comedy comes from character. A great example of this is when the main four characters end up having an incredibly awkward dinner together. You understand where each of them is coming from, and their interaction drives the hilarity. “Take my eyes but not the shirt” is only as hilarious as it is because you understand why he hates the shirt, and how that affects Sarah as she remembers her relationship with Peter. Then, of course, there’s the subsequent sex-off.

If you’re trying to make a comedy, watch Forgetting Sarah Marshall first and learn how it’s done.

The Team

Brendan Foley:

Forgetting Sarah Marshall is simultaneously the best and worst of the Apatowian approach to comedy that briefly conquered the world somewhere in the Aughts. It’s often hilarious, packed to the breaking point with comedy utility players like Jack MacBrayer and Bill Hader, and there is in general a spirit of warmth and generosity to all the characters within the story that makes Sarah Marshall just a pleasant movie to watch, even in the moments when the laughs get thin.

But Sarah Marshall stretches that goodwill at times. The Apatow directed and/or produced films were and are known for being shaggy, but Sarah Marshall is too laconic for its own good. It often doesn’t have scenes so much as set-ups, allowing Segel and whoever is scene partner is to chitchat aimlessly. When Segel is paired with a really strong improviser, like Brand or Hill, a scene can really pop, but there are times when Sarah Marshall starts to feel downright sluggish.

And while the gender politics of the film are lightyears ahead of similar films from the 90’s and 80’s, in a post-“the cool girl speech from Gone Girl” it’s hard not to look askance at a film where Mila Kunis is the ‘good’ girl because she loves and accepts the schlubby guy as is, while Kristen Bell is somehow the villain because she got fed up with him being a slovenly couch potato. Bell’s Sarah Marshall starts out as empathetically portrayed as everyone else, but she makes a sharp heel turn in the film’s last act that is so unmotivated and jarring it kinda spoils a lot of what came before.

I’ll never not laugh at Segel’s dong, though. (@theTrueBrendanF)

Justin Harlan:

My wife and I have counted this among our favorite movies since we first saw it in a theater a decade ago. It’s extremely fun and witty, also having so much heart. The cast is stellar and the writing is on point. It honestly can’t be overstated just how much I love this film.

While it’s certain that this film wouldn’t shine the way it does without the stellar performances from Jason Segel, Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, and Russell Brand, the supporting cast needs to get credit too. Paul Rudd, Bill Hader, and Jack McBrayer are hilarious virtually every time any of them are on screen. But, one of the lesser heralded supporters in this one is the guy who really struck me most this go around.

Da’Vone McDonald plays Dwayne the bartender. His scenes are all incredible. As a transplant from South Central LA, Dwayne is one of the people in the film that’s most happy to be in his new life in Hawaii. He lights up the screen with joy and laughter… and lines like “He’s like Gandhi, only better, because he loves puppets!”

So with that, I encourage everyone to really pay attention to the background players next time they watch. They add so much to this film.

“Snuffleupagus fucks my shit up!” (@ThePaintedMan)

Austin Vashaw:

I initially ignored Forgetting Sarah Marshall, dismissing it as the sort of raunchy comedy that isn’t really my thing. But after reading an effusive analysis of the script, it was clear to me I needed to check it out. I’m forever thankful for that, because I adore this film. A lesser approach would’ve just made this about a schlubby loser and his stalkery sense of loss, but the story explores all four characters in this love quadrilateral, giving each of them a sense of perspective and even pairing off the men and women for awkward but revelatory conversations outside the primary relationships. Protagonist Peter doesn’t simply get a pass, either — his flaws are explored and he’s clearly identified as the architect of his own ruin.

Beyond that, this is a hilarious movie with a lot of big laughs. As Husain points out, they aren’t just from solid riffing or slapstick either. Most of the humor comes from a deep place of understanding and sympathy for the characters and their situations — even the “raunchy” stuff like the honeymoon frustrations of nerdy honeymooner Jack McBrayer as a new husband unsure of how to please his new bride in the bedroom.

But to put my feelings succinctly, I really can’t think of another film that makes me both laugh and cry as fervidly as Forgetting Sarah Marshall. (@VforVashaw)


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