Forgetting Sarah Marshall
For five-and-a-half years, Peter Brettner has been dating Sarah Marshall. He's a successful (if slovenly) television music composer. She's the star of the TV show Crime Scene. Then Sarah informs Peter that she's leaving him for someone else—a revelation made even more painful by the fact that Peter is standing naked in front of her when she tells him.
Heartbroken doesn't even begin to describe Peter's emotional state after Sarah's departure. Hard drinking and a series of casual one-night stands fail, of course, to take the edge off his grief, let alone blot out the memories of his beloved. So at the suggestion of his stepbrother, Brian, Peter decides to get out of town. He heads to Hawaii, a place Sarah had always gushed about.
But Sarah has beaten him to it. She's already checked into the swanky Turtle Bay Resort by the time Peter arrives. And much to Peter's horror and disgust, she's hanging on the arm of British singer Aldous Snow, a rock star Access Hollywood labeled a "notorious lothario."
Fortunately for Peter, a kind (and beautiful) hotel receptionist named Rachel takes pity on his plight. As Peter alternately stalks his ex or futilely seeks to avoid her, friendship blossoms with Rachel ... then romance. Their connection deepens, even as the chemistry between Sarah and the sexually voracious Aldous Snow evaporates.
And that complicates matters even more for poor Peter.
Rachel believes in Peter and encourages him to pursue his dreams. Brian, meanwhile, makes it clear that he doesn't think Peter's insistence upon having sex with people he meets at a club is a good idea.
Sarah is usually kind to Peter at the resort, and she tells Rachel that he's a good guy. When Peter pushes Sarah to tell him why she broke up with him, Sarah talks about the ways she tried to make the relationship work (therapy, reading books, talking with her mother). She tells him that he was too hard to take care of and wouldn't take care of himself, and that she didn't want to "drown" anymore. And she eventually realizes her glamorous, sex-filled relationship with Aldous is devoid of real meaning or intimacy.
Much is made of the fact that two newlyweds' sexual inexperience is rooted in religious morals. (More on that in "Sexual Content.") Aldous meditates, and he also uses spiritual terms to describe sex. For all intents and purposes, he says that sex is his religion. He also brags that he's famous for his sins (which include kissing and hip-thrusting a nun in a video).
Sarah grows weary of Aldous' infatuation with superficial spirituality and tells him (rightly) that his religious tattoos representing Buddhism, Hinduism and Norse mythology are in ideological conflict. One of Aldous' fans says that he worships the rock star. Peter profanely compares Sarah to Satan, saying, "You're the g--d--ned devil!"
Forgetting Sarah Marshall floods moviegoers with a constant, cascading torrent of sexually explicit content. Two sequences played for supreme shock value and humor repeatedly show Peter's full-frontal nudity. In one, he hugs a clothed Sarah; in the other, he hugs a clothed Rachel. In addition, there are about a dozen sex scenes that barely manage to avoid frontal nudity as they present people having sex in a multitude of acrobatic positions.
Several of these encounters are quick montages of Peter's casual hook-ups. Rachel and Peter consummate their relationship in the room next to Sarah and Aldous', which prompts that lusty pair to have sex even more loudly in an obnoxious competition to see who can have a louder orgasm.
Sarah and Rachel are both seen in lingerie, revealing bikinis and outfits with plunging necklines. Peter also discovers a topless picture of Rachel on a men's room wall which is covered with Girls Gone Wild-style photos. (That picture turns up several times in the film.)
A running joke is made at the expense of a naïve Christian couple who can't figure out how to have sex. The woman is very aggressive and wants her reluctant husband to perform oral sex. And in an extraordinarily offensive moment, the newlyweds are shown finally figuring each other out (we see their bare torsos pressed together) as the man voices an obscene observation about Christ and female anatomy.
Aldous is a promiscuous playboy who believes he has the right to have sex with anyone at any time. In the only moment even remotely suggesting limits on sex, Peter tells the rocker, "This isn't Europe. There are rules here. You don't sleep with another man's girlfriend."
The film's obsession with all things sexual includes mentions of pubic hair, multiple references (visual and/or verbal) to oral sex, masturbation, erections, bondage, sodomy, a dismembered penis, multiple crude references to male and female anatomy, strippers, penetration, clitoral stimulation, impotence, condoms, herpes, other sexually transmitted diseases and sea turtle mating season.
Several clips of Crime Scene (and another series Sarah stars in) show bloody, CSI-like images of disfigured corpses. Peter throws a chair at the movie screen while he's composing music for Crime Scene.
Rachel's ex and one of his friends both hit and slap Peter. He also gets into a tangle with a restaurant owner after removing Rachel's topless picture from the bathroom. The day after we see Peter's face getting pounded, his visage is badly bruised.
Peter accidentally surfs into Aldous, knocking him out. (Peter then drags him to shore.) Once he's conscious again, they discover that Aldous has a piece of coral stuck in his thigh; Peter pulls it out, and the ensuing flow of blood causes him to pass out. Mention is made of a vampire in Peter's rock opera being decapitated. A red handkerchief stands in for blood when a vampire puppet is staked in the heart.
A resort worker invites Peter to help him prepare a pig for luau. We see Peter plunge a large knife into the squealing wild boar twice, saying "I'm sorry" each time.
Crude or Profane Language
Characters use the f-word more than 30 times (including two pairings with "mother" and several uses in a sexual context). The s-word is thrown out there about 20 times, as is God's name. (A couple of times it's linked with "d--n."). Jesus' name is abused twice. And about two-dozen other profanities are uttered as well.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Alcohol is even more ubiquitous than sex in this movie (if that's possible!). Peter drinks constantly—with other characters in public, alone in his hotel room, in the morning, in the evening and in between. Several scenes depict him getting very drunk. He's shown drinking as he writes music and as he watches TV. One scene shows him knocking back six mixed drinks at a bar in fast-forward succession as he gets drunk with the young Christian man who's dispirited about his bedroom "failures."
Peter, Rachel, Sarah and Aldous consume multiple bottles of wine at dinner. Aldous has previously bragged about being drug- and alcohol-free for seven years, and Peter is deliberately trying to shove the obnoxious rocker off the wagon. (He succeeds.) In a separate bar scene, Peter and Rachel get very intoxicated.
There are also several references to marijuana. A host at a hotel restaurant has a phone conversation with someone who wants to purchase marijuana from him. Likewise, surfboard instructor Chuck repeatedly offers "weed" to a potential customer. Chuck also offers Peter marijuana to help him deal with his emotional woes.
Other Negative Elements
Peter's home life is a train wreck of bachelordom. There are dirty clothes everywhere. He subsists on huge bowls of Fruit Loops. He admires his pudgy frame (shirtless) in the mirror, even though there's nothing even remotely healthy about his undisciplined, chaotic lifestyle.
There are no rooms available at Turtle Bay when Peter arrives. But Rachel takes pity on him (after she witnesses his first painful encounter with Sarah) and allows him to stay in a $6,000-a-night suite for free. She tries to justify her "generosity" by telling him that suite never gets used because nobody but celebrities can afford it.
Elsewhere, cheap verbal shots and racist mockery only add insult to injury.
Horror franchises such as Saw and Hostel have to work hard to top themselves with each new sequel while at the same time still staying within the bounds of the ever-expanding R rating. Likewise, Forgetting Sarah Marshall tries hard to top the last few entries in the how-far-can-we-push-things sex comedy contest.
Most of the recent movies in that competition have either been directed by Judd Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up) or produced by him (Walk Hard, Superbad). Forgetting Sarah Marshall is the latest producing credit on his sordid résumé; it is also one of the most sexually graphic films ever to be dumped into a mall cineplex. Sex scenes depict all manner of "creative" coitus. Peter exposes himself to the camera multiple times. And Jesus' name is mockingly dragged into the muck for good measure.
It's all played for laughs, of course. In a recent interview with Fox News, star Kristen Bell (who plays Sarah here and who's well-known by adults and kids alike for her roles in NBC's Heroes and CW's Gossip Girl and Veronica Mars) gushed, "The great thing about this is that it's not sort of exploitative, [like] 'let's just show boobs.' There really isn't much nudity in the movie unless it's Jason, and he wrote it, and I think that's really amazing. ... You don't see a lot of guys going out there and doing nudity."
Bell's logic: Female nudity is exploitative, but male nudity is just plain funny. Right. As if writer and star Jason Segel isn't exploiting himself to generate buzz and put dollars in box office cash registers.
And while audiences are busy laughing at his ribald jokes, they may fail to notice that the humor flowing around them is influencing and reshaping their values. Forgetting Sarah Marshall, then, not only degrades sex at everyone's expense—the actors' and the audience's—it also lowers the bar in terms of what is considered normal, acceptable behavior for millions of moviegoers, many of whom will be teens.