“Forgetting Sarah Marshall” — 3 popcorns

By Michael S. Goldberger, film critic

Director Nicholas Stoller hilariously reminds that if you turn heartbreak on its ear just so, you can show it for the folly that it is. Not that it seems at all possible to Peter Bretter at the outset of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” That’s when the title gal, an actress who stars on the TV crime drama he composes music for, gives him the gate. Done. Finished.

Portrayed with everyman genuineness by Jason Segel, the poor soul didn’t even have a clue. Adding insult to injury, it turns out his true love had been cheating on him for a year with rock star Aldous Snow (Russell Brand). Cuckolded! Now the hours stretch into eternities. Left to free-fall down a bottomless pit of loneliness, he sees no future.

The pity party he throws for himself is soon in full swing. Everything comes under scrutiny, lumped together in one big ball of failure. Whereas he once viewed his lucrative composing job as a cushy way station en route to musical greatness, now he considers himself a talentless drone. But we know something he doesn’t.

Fact is, we’ve seen a few movies in our time. And unless we’re about to witness the most sadistic of surprises, then Peter will soon be playing the lead in one of Filmdom’s more conceited fantasies: the redemption. Mind you, it wouldn’t be possible if he weren’t such a nice guy. But he is, and for our $8.50 a ticket, things better look up for the kid.

Knowing what we know, we’ve no compunction about laughing at his plight. Still, though it’s certain matters are going to get a lot darker before the dawn, we can’t suppress a head-slapping ‘Oy vey’ when, arriving in Hawaii to flee his despair, Peter finds Sarah is checked in at his hotel. Naturally, the new beau is in tow.

Sarah Marshall, conveying ‘I don’t love you anymore’ in her every move, is realized with icy detachment by Kristen Bell. Chalk it up to vanity that she’s hardly surprised by Peter’s appearance. In vain he claims a coincidence. Now he’s not only a forlorn lover and failed composer, but also a world-class loser…a sad sack. Oh, it seems so hopeless.

But wait. Word spreads throughout the resort. Opinion falls on Peter’s side of the aisle. He’s soon the cause celebre, a poster boy representing everyone’s tale of unrequited love. Paul Rudd is the stoner/surfing instructor; Taylor Willy is the huggy bear of a chef, and Davon McDonald is the prescient bartender. All want to help him forget Sarah Marshall.

Yet for all the talk about loving yourself, developing a new outlook and learning to be happy come what may, as any lonely heart can vouch, the quickest way to get over an old love is to find a new one. Rebound, shmeebound. We are a funny and fickle lot. While not the perfect solution, being seen positively in another’s eyes has its curative powers.

Of course, we’re not certain whether Rachel, the kind soul/resident hotel angel played by Mila Kunis, might really be interested in our boy. Her capacity as host dictates a demeanor that easily could be misinterpreted. Gosh…we sure like her a lot better than Sarah. But we know he isn’t at all over the actress. It’ll take a lot more embarrassment.

The astute screenplay, also penned by Mr. Segel, is happy to cooperate. All manner of awkward and uncomfortable situations, clichéd as well as risqué and edgy, provide a veritable nightmare of post-break up trauma and humiliation. And there’s no escaping it. Whatever the intention, he winds up in the company of his ex and her virile rock icon

Russell Brand is great in the stereotype. Members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences who have known a real rocker will surely nominate the Brit for a best supporting Oscar. Outlandish but likeable, at dinner his Aldous Snow doesn’t think twice about regaling tales of his amorous exploits with Sarah. Just what Pete needs.

Essentially serving as a balancing subtext to Peter’s trials and tribulations is the comfortably familiar, vacation milieu director Stoller and his aforementioned troupe of resort castaways create. Secrets are readily entrusted. Human fragility, the need for healing and the shared dream of a Phoenix-like arising are givens.

The caustic/sympathetic mix and an unabashedly headlong plunge into R-rated terrain supply a tad more credibility than is usually accorded a farce. As a result, “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” gives veterans of the war between the sexes an opportunity to laugh off the once painful but now humorously entertaining memories it conjures.

“Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” rated R, is a Universal Pictures release directed by Nicholas Stoller and stars Jason Segel, Kristen Bell and Russell Brand. Running time: 112 minutes

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