How do you forget someone you can't escape? You don't. But Forgetting Sarah Marshall, for all its tortured breakup hardships and indecent exposures, makes us laugh long and hard enough to forget we're watching a sad, depressed man painfully try to move on.
The man is Peter (Jason Segel), and at the beginning of writer Nicholas Stoller's (Fun with Dick and Jane) film he's unceremoniously dumped by Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell), the star of a CSI-esque TV detective drama. For solace, Peter seeks the comfort of other women and the advice of his brother (Bill Hader), but the constant stream of ads for the TV show doesn't allow him to escape thoughts of Sarah. As a last-ditch effort to get everything about her out of his mind, he decides to go on vacation in Hawaii.
Big mistake. Upon arrival, he meets a cute receptionist named Rachel (Mila Kunis), but to his misfortune, he soon sees Sarah there with her new boyfriend, rock star Aldous Snow (Russell Brand). Awkward and amusing encounters ensue, and layers of truth that bring a new, fresh perspective to what could have been an ordinary romantic comedy are cleverly revealed.
One more note on the breakup scene. Peter is naked throughout and refuses to cover himself. Metaphorically, he's vulnerable and completely exposed, and thanks to a few close-ups of his not-so-flaccid penis, he's literally exposed as well. The scene plays for laughs—for whatever reason, the shock value of male genitalia always elicits laughter—but it's also quite somber, and Peter is enough of a lovable loser to pull it off convincingly.
In fact, Segel's Peter is the best part of the movie. Segel, who also wrote the script, has the look and disposition of an average Joe, which allows the audience to identify and empathize with him. If he was better-looking the story wouldn't work because we'd constantly wonder why he was so hung up on Sarah when he could ostensibly have his pick of eligible women. But with a slightly flabby body and ordinary features, we quickly get the impression that Sarah was out of his league from the get-go, and yet loved him anyway during their five years together. When you lose everything you have and the best thing you will ever have, the heartbreak is that much worse. Fortunately, because Segel is so likeable and funny, the movie never falters.
The film was produced by Judd Apatow, who is single-handedly redefining immature guy humor one male member, er, movie, at a time. Apatow mainstays Paul Rudd and Jonah Hill are highly amusing here as a burned-out surfing instructor and overly attentive waiter, respectively, and newcomer Brand gives unexpected depth to an otherwise typical rock star Lothario.
Although some of Apatow's movies (Drillbit Taylor) miss the mark, others (he directed The Forty Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, and produced Superbad) reflect the smart, new-age humor that has made him and his minions the new kings of comedy. You can include Forgetting Sarah Marshall among the successes.