Saturday, March 14, 2009

Puppetry, Penis or: It's not your father's R rating: Forgetting Sarah Marshall

For lack of a better phrase, the satirical sex scene is very hard to pull off. I know, I'm sorry. Now, I'm no expert, and there's probably way more than I thought there was. I don't count the 'hair gel' scene of There's Something About Mary, as good as it was. I'm talking scenes more like American Psycho where Bale's busy enjoying himself in the mirror while at work. There's also Susan's Plan when Lara Flynn Boyle says, post-coitus, "See? I told you we'd be good at this!"
But now that the R rating doesn't mean what it used to, and our culture's obsession with sex seems to have no ceiling, this movie seems tame in comparison and, like most of the other critics agree, kinda sweet. The teen sex comedies of the '80s seem Neanderthal in comparison. But there is satire to be found in the sex scenes of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and not just your average garden variety exploitative fare. The scene with the dueling couples in adjoining rooms comes to mind. And Peter's succession of one night stands in the first act as well. As for the Christian couple discovering the joy of sex, well, not so much. Even with the whole Jesus factor. The film does seem to have its own spin on the scene in Animal House where the one girl is wearing gloves and... never mind.
At points the film veers into Adam Sandler territory, mostly because of the presence of Apatow and Sandler regular Jonah Hill. I think we've found the new Chris Penn! Otherwise, star and screenwriter Jason Segel has written a film of surprising insight and depth of characters. One of my favorite scenes is when Brian tries to get Peter out of his funk at the beginning of the movie, and Peter tells Brian that his wife's not in the same league as Sarah. That's right, ladies, men do that kind of thing. At the same time, I also liked the scene where Sarah's trying to figure out if there's something going on between Peter and Rachel. She finds out later on, of course. Could this film be the new BCTA??
As for William Baldwin, well... has Stephen channeled Alec in a performance yet? I guess he'd be the last one! A little more difficult for him, being a natural blond. No, Apatow and Sandler usually beat you over the head with the gross-out stuff, and it's here as well, but it's a lot more tempered here than Sandler could do, and there's a bit more character development than Sandler would usually go for.

I must say I disagree with The Onion's assessment, at least just one part: I don't know which third-act scene they're referring to that changes the whole tone of the movie. And the women probably are underserved, but Sarah Marshall herself has that nice line about why her career's in neutral. Perhaps the movie treats the introduction of herpes into the mix a little too lightly or too Hollywood, but that's just me.
As the World Socialist Web Site would surely note, this is a Holly-weird tale, but we see the various Hollywood strata interacting. Peter lives on a level beneath Sarah, doing the grunt work of providing the music on her hit CSI-esque show. And Aldous Snow is on a level above or equal to Sarah. Probably above, right? But they all can afford the nice Hawaii resort. But Hollywood's not all backstabbing, as we see when Peter puts on the big puppet show at the end. Sorry, I guess that was a spoiler. We'll probably not see the death of the demo CD any time soon, though. Sorry, guys, but at least you tried.
As for those brief snippets of full frontal male nudity... They didn't seem as long as Graham Chapman's big unveiling party in Life of Brian. I've seen it quite a few times now, thank you very much. I did miss Harvey Keitel in The Piano, but I think Jason is joining a long proud tradition, as are many other of Apatow's films, I'm told. As I watched this with the person whose opinion I trust, they wondered why there had to be the nude scene at the end. I told them, well, you had the one at the beginning, you have to have a scene at the end! Bookends! It's the only way.
It's a very likable movie. Even that Christian reviewer liked it! The hipsters over at The Village Voice liked it, and damn it, I like it too. I like that Jason Segel guy... is it just me, or does he look like a cousin of James Franco? I guess they're not, but still. Segel's star is on the rise: he's got I Love You, Man coming out next week with fellow co-star Paul Rudd, and apparently Aldous Snow has got a second movie. Don't let it go to your head, buddy.

-so sayeth the Movie Hooligan

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