Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the latest project from the Judd Apatow factory, features the same unique blend of raunchy humor and genuine emotion that has characterized his other movies, but unlike The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, it lacks the moralizing and social commentary found in those other films.

Perhaps that's because while Apatow wrote and directed both Virgin and Knocked Up, he was merely a producer—and thus far less hands-on—for Sarah Marshall.

Jason Segel as Peter Bretter, Kristen Bell as Sarah Marshall

Jason Segel as Peter Bretter, Kristen Bell as Sarah Marshall

Written by and starring Jason Segel, and directed by newcomer Nicholas Stoller, Sarah Marshall does attempt to make some kind of comment about the damage caused by infidelity. But none of the "infidelity" involves married couples; most of the sex in the film is extra-marital. And the movie even touches on the need to stand up for a loved one's honor. Decent messages, yes, but subtly presented, and mostly buried beneath the crassness. While 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up were also quite bawdy, their underlying messages—the former celebrated the sanctity of marriage, the latter the sanctity of unborn life—were decidedly more redemptive.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall begins with the most unusual break-up scene in recent memory. Segel (co-star of TV's How I Met Your Mother) plays Peter Bretter, a composer who has just come out of the shower when his girlfriend, a TV actress named Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell, star of Veronica Mars), comes home and lets him know that she is breaking up with him. Peter, shocked, drops his towel—and then spends the rest of the scene completely and utterly naked, even as he pleads with the fully-clothed Sarah not to leave him, or to at least give him one last hug.

Sarah ends up with libidinous Brit rocker Aldous Snow

Sarah ends up with libidinous Brit rocker Aldous Snow

As it happens, the nudity is not simply there for comedic shock value. In a way, it ties into one of the film's recurring themes, which is the reversal of gender roles and the feminization of men like Peter. Unlike most films of this sort, this one tends to avoid or obscure female nudity, which leaves Peter the only character who is ever fully exposed to the audience—and he turns out to be emotionally vulnerable, too, in a way that has typically been associated with the so-called weaker sex. The women in this film tend to be confident and sexually assertive, and a few of them are all too happy to pick Peter up on the rebound—but even after he sleeps with them, Peter cries and cries like a baby, still overwhelmed by the pain of being dumped.

Eventually, Peter decides that what he needs to do is to go far, far away and forget all about Sarah, and so he goes to Hawaii—where he promptly discovers that he is staying in the same hotel as Sarah and her new boyfriend, a casually narcissistic and sex-crazed British rock star named Aldous Snow (Russell Brand, who has a subtly hilarious way with his oddball dialogue). Oops. But fortunately for Peter, several of the hotel's staffers take pity on him, not least the woman at the front desk, Rachel (Mila Kunis of That '70s Show), who quickly becomes a potential love interest.

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Rachel (Mila Kunis) takes a liking to Peter

Rachel (Mila Kunis) takes a liking to Peter

As ever, the film is buoyed by amusing turns from veterans of Apatow's other movies. Bill Hader appears as Peter's stepbrother, who is married and expecting a child and thus represents, in some sense, the "normal" life that Peter can only aspire to. Paul Rudd plays an upbeat but absent-minded surfing instructor. And Jonah Hill plays a waiter who develops an almost stalker-ish interest in Aldous Snow.

Other actors seem a little more typecast. Jack McBrayer, who plays the dweeby NBC page on TV's 30 Rock, here appears as Darald, the male half of a newlywed couple spending its honeymoon in Hawaii but having some difficulty in the bedroom, largely because Darald feels inhibited by his religious beliefs. Ultimately, Darald discusses his problem with Aldous, of all people, and the rock star, for whom everything is ultimately sexual, gives Darald tips on sexual technique and tells him to say outrageous things to his bride like, "You've got Christ between your thighs."

Jonah Hill as Matthew the waiter

Jonah Hill as Matthew the waiter

But the film's real focus is on Peter, the two women in his life, and the man who has come between Peter and his ex-girlfriend. It is to the film's credit that it gives each of these characters a chance to show some humanity, even when it would be all too easy to write them off as cartoonish or worse. Sarah, for example, may have broken Peter's heart, and that might in some sense make her the villain, but the film still has some sympathy for her, especially where her fears about the state of her career are concerned. (In one scene, two guys rip apart a low-budget horror movie that she starred in, and while their nit-picking works as a funny, spot-on critique of the genre, Sarah's irritation is genuine, and even justified.) And Aldous, for all his libidinal tendencies, takes no pleasure in sex when he can tell that he is being used—especially in a scene where Peter and Sarah go at it loudly, and competitively, with their respective partners on opposite sides of the same wall.

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Compared to The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, this is a more lightweight sort of film, and the way its characters obsess over sex is less enlightening, for lack of a better word, than the exploration of sexual mores in those other films. This is especially true in the film's final reel, where people hook up and break up in a somewhat hasty fashion, and where decisions are based more on how the body responds to sexual stimulation—or doesn't, as the case may be—than on any conscious commitment to existing relationships.

Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. The film shows Peter sleeping with strangers in a futile effort to forget Sarah, and then, after he goes to Hawaii for a vacation lasting only a few days, he begins a relationship with Rachel, the girl at the front desk of his hotel. Is his relationship with Rachel different from his one-night stands? How or how not? What sort of advice would you give him? Do rebound relationships ever work out? Why or why not?
  2. What sort of attitudes do the characters in this film have toward sex? Is it just a casual activity? Is it something deeper? What sorts of contradictory attitudes are reflected in the behavior of these characters?
  3. How does the portrayal of the religious newlywed couple come across? Realistic or unrealistic? Sometimes couples who have made a point of abstaining from sex before marriage have difficulty with sex after marriage—how would you deal with that?
  4. Aldous tells Darald that God has a place in the bedroom, which eventually leads to Darald telling his wife, "You've got Christ between your thighs." Do you agree with Aldous? Disagree? Where and where not? What about Darald's statement to his wife? What is the relationship between sexuality and spirituality?

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

Forgetting Sarah Marshall is rated R for sexual content (including several scenes of people in bed together), language (mostly four-letter words) and some graphic nudity (mostly shots of a naked man; plus a man goes to a public restroom that is decorated with photos of women flashing their breasts). One subplot involves a newlywed couple that has difficulty in the bedroom because of the husband's religious hang-ups; the husband turns to a rock star for advice and eventually says things to his wife like, "You've got Christ between your thighs."

What other Christian critics are saying:

Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Our Rating
3 Stars - Good
Average Rating
(5 user ratings)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
R (for sexual content, language and some graphic nudity)
Directed By
Nicholas Stoller
Run Time
1 hour 51 minutes
Kristen Bell, Jason Segel, Paul Rudd
Theatre Release
April 18, 2008 by Universal Studios
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