Re­mem­ber­ing ‘Sarah Mar­shall’

Goofy 2008 rom-com is worth an­other look.

USA TODAY US Edition - - LIFE - Patrick Ryan Colum­nist

From the mo­ment Ja­son Segel opened his towel, I knew I was in trouble.

When I was 15, my par­ents took my friends and me to see For­get­ting Sarah

Mar­shall. To this day, I’m not sure why I thought the lat­est Judd Apa­tow­pro­duced com­edy was the best Satur­day night out­ing for a church youth group in Savannah, Ga., es­pe­cially when 21 and Leather­heads were play­ing right down the hall.

My con­ser­va­tive par­ents surely won­dered the same thing when, in the first five min­utes, a naked, flac­cid, drip­ping wet Peter Bret­ter (Segel) is dumped by his hot­shot ac­tress girl­friend Sarah Mar­shall (Kris­ten Bell) and pro­ceeds to have lots of cringe-wor­thy re­bound sex with strangers. It’s safe to say Mom and Dad didn’t go to the movies with me for a long time af­ter that.

But when I think of Sarah Mar­shall, which opened in the­aters 10 years ago Wed­nes­day, I don’t im­me­di­ately think of sink­ing into my the­ater seat or the awk­ward car ride home. In­stead, I’m re­minded of the broody nights it helped me through af­ter breakups and of all of the quotable one-lin­ers that elicit know­ing laughs in ev­ery­day con­ver­sa­tion. (“You sound like you’re from Lon­don!”)

On pa­per, the movie sounds like yet an­other en­try in the tired ro­man­tic­com­edy sub­genre of “schlubby sad sack gets his heart bro­ken, winds up with an­other girl who’s way out of his league.” Af­ter Sarah drops him for pro­mis­cu­ous English rocker Al­dous Snow (a scen­esteal­ing Rus­sell Brand), Peter de­cides to go on a va­ca­tion to Hawaii to clear his head. The only trouble is, Sarah and Al­dous are stay­ing at the same re­sort when he ar­rives. But with the help of sym­pa­thetic ho­tel re­cep­tion­ist Rachel Jansen (Mila Ku­nis), he finds a new out­look on life and is even in­spired to fin­ish his long-ges­tat­ing Drac­ula pup­pet mu­si­cal.

While Ku­nis’ char­ac­ter is sorely un­der­de­vel­oped, Segel’s script suc­ceeds in show­ing both sides of a breakup. Sarah isn’t painted as a vil­lain: Mid­way through the film, we learn the great ef­forts she took to save their re­la­tion­ship. But ul­ti­mately, Peter’s man-child be­hav­ior made her feel like more of a par- ent than a part­ner. His step­brother, Brian (Bill Hader), and new friend, Dwayne (Da’Vone McDon­ald), don’t pity him ei­ther, and they tell him to stop wal­low­ing and start dat­ing again when he’s ready.

That con­cept may not sound too rev­o­lu­tion­ary now, when rom-coms The Big Sick, Net­flix’s Love and FXX’s

You’re the Worst have pre­sented us with fully re­al­ized fe­male love in­ter­ests. But

Sarah Mar­shall ar­rived on the heels of hit raunch come­dies Knocked Up and

Wed­ding Crash­ers, whose por­tray­als of women as ei­ther hu­mor­less or va­pid don’t hold up.

It also sub­verts tropes as one of the rare rom-coms to show men as vul­ner­a­ble. Peter can’t merely shrug off Sarah: He pa­thet­i­cally (if also amus­ingly) cries when he tries to hook up with other women af­ter their split, and he sobs alone into his wine glass watch­ing

Project Run­way when he’s re­minded of her. Later, he can’t per­form when Sarah comes back for makeup sex, show­ing that he val­ues emo­tional con­nec­tion over phys­i­cal at­trac­tion, un­like many movie Casanovas.

That it man­ages to do all of this and still be laugh-out-loud funny is what makes For­get­ting Sarah Mar­shall so in­sanely re­watch­able, prov­ing that the best mod­ern rom-coms can have their heart, and their pe­nis jokes, too.

UNI­VER­SAL STU­DIOS

GLEN WIL­SON/ UNI­VER­SAL STU­DIOS

Kind Rachel (Mila Ku­nis) of­fers heart­sick Peter (Ja­son Segel) a shoul­der to cry on in 2008’s “For­get­ting Sarah Mar­shall.”

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