Forgetting Sarah Marshall, by Albert W. Vogt III

A dear friend of mine texted me recently and asked if I had reviewed 500 Days of Summer or The Greatest Showman. I had not, and neither has this blog addressed either of them. I also explained that I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with 500 Days of Summer. The film hits a little too close to home. Her hope was that by watching it I might have a bit of catharsis for my current blue mood. As for The Greatest Showman, I have not seen it due to my distaste for musicals. My friend says there are a lot of Catholic themes in it. Maybe she will write a review of it for The Legionnaire? Anyway, I went in search of 500 Days of Summer. What I found instead is its more irreverent cousin, Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall opens with a rehashing of the relationship between Peter Bretter (Jason Segel) and Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). She is a famous actress on a cheesy fictitious crime drama called Crime Scene: Scene of the Crime and he composes the music for it. He leads a pretty solitary life while she is busy with her acting career. Everything is fine in his world until one day she decides that his lifestyle is too staid for her, and she breaks up with him. He is devastated, and he goes on to make a series of poor decisions to drown his sorrows by sleeping with a bunch of women. Of note, though, is the realization that none of his philandering fills the emptiness he feels from his loss. His next decision is a healthier one, to take a trip to Hawaii, even if it was originally Sarah’s idea and he is going by himself. Probably not surprisingly, once he arrives at the resort in the Aloha State he finds that Sarah is there as well. She is also not alone, bringing her “new” boyfriend, the internationally known recording artist Aldous Snow (Russell Brand). Initially he thinks Peter should find another resort, having not made a reservation, but he is convinced to stay by the concierge, Rachel Jansen (Mila Kunis). Despite the title of the movie, he finds it difficult to forget Sarah Marshall as they keep bumping into each other in the confines of the resort. In one of his unintentional rendezvous with Aldous, Peter discovers that Sarah had been cheating on him for a year. He then confronts her with this information and in the ensuing argument they find out just how different they really are from each other, and she is unapologetic. What keeps him at the resort, though, is his growing interest in Rachel, which is accelerated by his recent revelation. They go on a series of date, which culminate in them having dinner with Sarah and Aldous. At this meal it becomes apparent that Aldous is not quite the catch Sarah believed, particularly when he claims that he feels it is acceptable to have sex with anyone at any time. The next day, Sarah attempts to make amends with Peter, which leads to a bit of hanky-panky before he realizes that it is not right, that he feels nothing for Sarah aside from well wishes, and that he desires to be with Rachel. Though his admission to Rachel of what had transpired with Sarah does not go well, his honesty (and the fact that he faced a beating for taking down an inappropriate picture of her at a local bar) eventually win over Rachel. A little later get back together after the opening of a new play he had written, a rock musical about Dracula using puppets.

I had not seen Forgetting Sarah Marshall in a long time, so I had forgotten (pun intended) much of the sexual content in it. While there is a good core to it, which I will discuss in a moment, there are far too many scenes of female and male nudity in it. While it is played for comedic affect, the scenes where Sarah breaks up with Peter, and Rachel and him make up, both feature him in his birthday suit with shots of his penis. So I get we are supposed to laugh at these moments, and that this aims to be a comedy in general, but why would you try and alter the mood of these weightier times with things that are designed to be funny? I would suggest that giving these scenes a little more seriousness would make the characters a bit more sympathetic. As it is, I can identify with Peter just fine, though it would have been better had he kept his clothes on.

How I relate with Peter in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, though, is what makes the movie more acceptable, if you can get past the little bit of raunchiness. It can be summed up in the play that he writes about Dracula. Peter claims that the infamous vampire just wants to be loved, and that every time he gets close to someone he ends up smothering them in his desire for them . . . and their blood. At any rate, it speaks to the God given desire in all of us for love, though it does take Peter some time to realize it. Through this lens, we can look at his trip to Hawaii as a retreat. Of course, in the Catholic sense a retreat is not intended to be a place where you encounter your ex-girlfriend and her current flame, or fall in love with somebody else. Instead, Christians go on retreats in order to reconnect with God, the source of that desire Peter feels. We can see that in his day-to-day life he is losing meaning for the things that he does. By getting away, he is able once more to see things in their proper perspective. To be fair, God is not at the center of Peter’s perspective. Still, the next time you find yourself sort of just drifting along (and such places are open and receiving retreatants once more), contact the nearest convent, abbey, or monastery and ask to come spend some time with them. It will help.

As I alluded to, there is much in Forgetting Sarah Marshall that is inappropriate. In addition to the sexual content, there is copious amounts of swearing. If only all movies can combine the prerogatives of having a good message with good content. Nonetheless, it is a film about a guy who desires to be loved. He had it good, but life threw him a curveball when Sarah dumped him. It happens. It happened to me. You grieve for a time, and then (hopefully) you forget about it. The Bible says that everything is grace. What that really means is that everything that occurs in life is an opportunity to grow in your relationship with God, the source of grace and love. While Peter’s outcome is not God-centered, he does come out of it with a new perspective on love and we will have to take it.

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