Reviewed by: Kenneth R. Morefield
How can I deal with temptations? Answer
Should I save sex for marriage? Answer
How far is too far? What are the guidelines for dating relationships? Answer
What are the consequences of sexual immorality? Answer
What is true love and how do you know when you have found it? Answer
Why are humans supposed to wear clothes? Answer
Mila Kunis, Russell Brand, Bill Hader, Liz Cackowski, Maria Thayer, Jack McBrayer, Da'Vone McDonald, Steve Landesberg, Jonah Hill, Paul Rudd, Kala Alexander
|Director:||Nicholas Stoller—“Fun with Dick and Jane”|
|Producer:||Judd Apatow, Shauna Robertson, Rodney Rothman, Richard Vane|
“A comedy about getting dumped and taking it like a man.”
Still reading? Okay, then I’m going to assume you are looking for something more from a review than a quick check to see if there is nudity (yep, full-frontal, several times, and not from Sarah Marshall either), swearing (check), or other objectionable content. It’s hard to know whether or not these three films form a subgenre of the farcical sex comedy genre or the coming of age sex comedy genre. Either way, they are about sex, so they are going to have plenty in them to earn the wrath of those who believe such a subject should not be the topic of entertainment pieces. Add to the simple fact of its subject matter the fact that a subplot of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” revolves around a newlywed couple struggling with religiously grounded sexual inhibitions, and you can be reasonably sure that there will be at least some viewers who not only walk out but insist they don’t understand how others could claim to be Christian and not do the same.
As far as the nudity and sexual situations go, they are either a deal breaker or they aren’t. Nothing good about the themes of the film will convince viewers of a certain sensibility that viewing them is okay. Conversely, no amount of hand wringing or finger wagging will likely bully or shame those who don’t think all such content need be universally censored or condemned into believing otherwise.
Bearing that in mind, think of the following as an explanation of how and why “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” is a better than the average sex comedy rather than a universal defense of that genre.
The title pretty much gives the plot. Professional musician Peter Bretter (Jason Segel of “How I Met Your Mother”) works creating background music for his girlfriend’s television show, even though he longs to write a puppet-opera about Dracula. When said girlfriend (Kristen Bell in the title role) dumps him, he flies to Hawaii to try to break his depression, only to end up at the same resort as his ex and her new flame (Russell Brand doing a cross between Tom Cruise and Prince). Add a gorgeous, sympathetic and inexplicably available front desk clerk to the equation, and you have all the elements of a very special episode of “The Love Boat” goes to “Fantasy Island,” only, you know, with more skin.
If that’s not entirely fair to the film, it’s only because “the guys” that brought us “The 40-Year Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up” (Judd Apatow directed those two films and produces here, Segel moves from supporting cast to writer and star) are a little more thoughtful and a little more ambivalent about being inheritors of the sexual revolution than those who make films such as “American Pie” or “Porky’s,” films which only really seek to exploit cultural mores rather than examining them.
I’ve come to call the three Apatow directed or produced films the “muddling through genre.” They seem to be about a generation of young adults who inherited sexual freedom, but little sexual (or moral) instruction and find themselves in adulthood grappling with the results of actions or decisions that their culture told them would be free of consequences.
There are no accidental pregnancies here as there were in “Knocked Up,” but Sarah’s new boyfriend does let slip during an argument that he has a sexually transmitted disease he concealed from her (leaving some very uncomfortable and unresolved implications when Sarah in turn confesses to Peter that she had been cheating on him for almost a year before they broke up).* Peter sees a picture of his new love interests in a candid “girl’s gone wild” pose above the urinal in a public bathroom, and she confesses that an ex-boyfriend pressured her into baring her breasts for the camera when she had too much to drink and now regrets her past decisions.
The fact that one still has to deal with the consequences of decisions one regrets lies close to (if not at) the heart of the “muddling through” genre. The films don’t condemn promiscuity, but they don’t exactly idealize it either. Sarah speaks openly about her fears of not getting further acting work if she refuses to do nudity or get implants.
Peter threatens his new relationship by “messing around some” with a heartbroken and rebounding Sarah, not because he wants her back but because the casual and habitual attitude towards and practice of sex has left him untrained and unpracticed in guarding against (in even a rudimentary fashion) the escalation of intimacy into foreplay.
Even Aldous (Sarah’s new boyfriend), while a veteran in the mechanics of sex, is relatively clueless as to how to handle the hurt and loneliness that his public, sexually liberated persona must claim he doesn’t feel but which is evident in a few of his quieter moments. (Brand really does a nice job at taking what is essentially a cartoon character and making him human.)
When Peter’s new girlfriend insists that he eschew vague apologies for a specific confession about what he did, knowing how she “ought” to respond is not a shield against the pain of being alone again when she does.
The fundamental truth that sex has consequences (whether we acknowledge them or not), is (for my money) the redeeming element of this trilogy of films. In fact, I would even argue that accepting and learning to deal with the consequences is the true marker that distinguishes the adult from the adolescent in Apatow’s film world.
Although they are not instrumental to the plot, I should probably talk a bit more about the newlyweds Peter meets at the hotel desk. Many Christians will, I imagine, look at the husband as a cheap caricature of Christians. (I’m assuming he is meant to be a fundamentalist Christian and not some type of Mormon or Jew, even though he only explicitly mentions “God” as the source of his beliefs.) Perhaps he is. On the other hand, I did find myself thinking that while this character was an exaggeration, there were seeds of truth in his character’s portrayal. Some young people who have been conditioned to repress or deny any sexual feelings for most of their lives may very well struggle to get past that conditioning when they do find themselves in a situation (i.e., marriage) where expressions of physical love are appropriate.
While the film does laugh at that character and that problem, it doesn’t exactly hold the couple (or even just the husband) up for contempt. I’ll agree that it’s wincingly lewd when the husband goes to Aldous for sex advice and his new mentor tutors him in the mechanics of sex using giant chess pieces on the beach, but am I the only one who thought there was something just a tiny bit sweet about the scene, too? I mean, here’s a guy really going outside his comfort zone in part because he really does love his wife and is able, ultimately, to make a distinction between something that makes him uncomfortable and something that he thinks is wrong.
I thought “Knocked Up” was one of the best American studio films last year. It was a bit more about the central characters’ relationship, whereas “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” is a bit more of a farce. As a result, the newer film feels funnier, if a bit less substantive. (Segel’s rendition of the signature piece from his puppet opera was reminiscent of a young Robin Williams on a good day.) If you are the sort of viewer who can get past the fact that it is very “R” rated, you may find it surprisingly fresh, funny, and intelligent. If you are the sort who has trouble getting past the “R” rated stuff (or has no inclination to do so), don’t bother—I doubt you’ll get past the first ten minutes.
* There is a part of me that wants to call the film to task for leaving uncorrected (or uncommented upon) the boyfriend’s excuse that it was “okay” he didn’t tell Sarah about his herpes because he wasn’t going through a flare up. Perhaps the film takes for granted that the audience will be sexually educated and recognize that this character is trying to justify himself (or is himself deluded). Given the fact, however, that the Center for Disease Control (http://www.cdc.gov/std/stats/adol.htm) estimates that approximately one-half of all new cases of STDs are in the those ages 15-24 (a demographic that comprises only one-quarter of the population), it is evident that the target audience for the film may be more sexually active than sexually informed. I understand that it is not the job of entertainment to be public service announcements, but there is a difference between not educating and disseminating misinformation. I wish they had dealt with this issue better, especially since it was a throw-away line in a pretty funny film.
Violence: Mild / Profanity: Moderate / Sex/Nudity: Heavy
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.