Movie Night: Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)

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I watched Forgetting Sarah Marshall for the umpteenth time tonight, and I swear, it just might be the most underrated comedy of all time.  The film follows the story of sad sack Peter Bretter (Jason Segel) as he desperately tries to get over Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell), his longtime girlfriend who has recently left him for an English rock star.  In a last-ditch effort to get her out of his heart, he takes a vacation to beautiful Hawaii, only to discover that she and her rock star boyfriend are also vacationing there. Hijinks ensue.

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On the surface, one might easily dismiss the film as a formulaic Hollywood rom-com replete with just enough sophomoric humor to satiate the masses, but the truth of the matter is that this movie is so much more than that.  First of all, everyone (and I mean everyone) is brilliant in this movie–even Russell Brand. The casting is (surprisingly) perfect. But even more surprising is that this is a smart film. Sure, there’s some crude and vulgar humor in the movie, but guess what?  Life itself is both crude and vulgar.  And even the basest elements of the film still manage to be at once both clever and hilarious, as is the trademark of most Judd Apatow films.  But what separates this script from any of Apatow’s other productions is the fact that it was written by Jason Segel himself, and Segel wrote one gem of a screenplay.  It seems clear to me that Segel wrote this movie from the heart without any consideration of or concern for what the box office might think, in very much the same way as his character writes his Dracula musical in the film.  It’s easy to tell when something is created out of love or passion rather than commercial interests. This film was a labor of love for Segel, and it shows.

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At its core, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is not just a funny film–it is an unabashedly moving motion picture that touches on the frailty of the human heart and the indescribable pain of getting over a lost love.  In my mind, the best comedies are those which make us think and feel as well as laugh–something deeper than slapstick–and beneath all the clever jokes and funny moments, Forgetting Sarah Marshall manages to successfully address the human condition in a way that few comedies have been able to:  uncontrived and honest.  And I swear, I pick up something new every time I see it.  Tonight it was the moment where a very large Hawaiian dude gives Peter (Jason Segel) advice about moving on:

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“You’ve got to stop talking about her.  It’s like The Sopranos–it’s over!  Find a new show!”  [pause]  “You need a hug.  C’mere.”

 

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite scenes from the movie. There are so many scenes in this film worth sharing, but if I had to choose just one, it would be this one:

 

Movie Night: The Quiet Man (1952)

[EDITOR’S NOTE: this post was supposed to run a few weeks ago, but somehow didn’t publish on schedule, so I am publishing it now]

I was a little late celebrating St. Patrick’s Day this year, so I spent the weekend cooking corned beef ‘n cabbage and watching the one movie everyone should watch this time of year:  Darby O’Gill and the Little People.

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“It’s different!”

No, not really.  Apologies to any fans of Darby O’Gill and the Little People, but it’s not my cup of tea.  Not even the presence of Sean Connery could convince me to re-watch that film (and this is coming from someone who has seen Highlander 2 more than once).  In all honesty, I’d probably watch that miserable excuse for a movie again before I’d re-watch Darby O’Gill.  Hell… I’d likely even watch Leprechaun 3 before I’d watch Darby O’Gill.

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He’s the leprechaun.

No, the one movie everyone should watch on St. Paddy’s Day is of course The Quiet Man, John Ford’s Irish classic starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara (who might get my vote for most beautiful actress of all time, but that’s just me).  Ford and Wayne made several films together, most of which were traditional westerns or war pics, so it’s safe to say this film was a bit of a departure for both.   Ford spent years dreaming of returning to his Irish roots and making this movie, but it wasn’t until he was asked to direct Rio Grande (also with Wayne and O’Hara) that Ford found the leverage to convince the studio to finance his pet project.

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“Some things a man doesn’t get over so easy.”

I’m almost ashamed to admit that I was a full-grown adult the first time I ever watched The Quiet Man.  Up until that point, all I knew of the film was the homage Stephen Spielberg paid to it in a scene from E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial.  It’s the moment where E.T. is hanging out at the house getting drunk, thereby getting Elliott equally drunk at school through their strange psychic connection, and subsequently inspires the inebriated Elliott to release the anesthetized frogs which were destined for dissection in his Biology class.  As E.T. sits on the couch in a flannel shirt, drinking Coors Banquet like it’s going out of style, he turns on the tv in time to catch the most iconic scene from The Quiet Man and inspires Elliott to pull the same move on the prettiest girl in school.  This is one of the wonderfully classic moments in all of American cinema, but I never fully realized that was in part because Spielberg was aping an even more classic moment in an arguably more classic film.  [Below is the scene from E.T.]

As I mentioned, I was an adult before I ever saw The Quiet Man.  What’s even more incredulous is that I was an adult before I ever saw a John Wayne film period, but I have a perfectly good reason.  You see, my mother hated westerns.  More accurately, she despised them.  There were two things my brother and I were forbidden from watching on television while growing up:  westerns and wrestling.  As I recall, those were the only things both her father and (many years later) her bartending boyfriend would watch on television, so she logically concluded that such entertainment had no redeemable merit and thus forbade us from ever watching them.  I can now freely fess up to having seen damn near every John Wayne western (not counting those reeeeeallly early films where his face is caked in lady makeup), and I have two people to thank for that.  I once worked with a woman who believed it was akin to a criminal offense for someone to have never watched a John Wayne movie, and she demanded I rectify that deficiency in my upbringing immediately.  So I started watching every John Wayne western I could get my hands on, and I quickly realized that while I may not have been a big fan of “The Duke” personally, I really did enjoy watching his movies–especially True Grit, which I had never actually seen even though I had read the book as a child.

I also worked with another woman whose favorite movie was The Quiet Man.  When she heard about my mission to catch up on John Wayne westerns, she insisted that I watch this film even though it wasn’t a western, telling me that she and her family loved it so much that they made it a point to screen the film once a year.  So watch it I did, and I was immediately appalled at the blatant sexism running rampant throughout the picture.

Ah, the good ol’ days… when pretty girls would come over to clean your house for you, and you could kiss them against their will.  A more refined age when if you liked a girl, all you had to do was grab her and make her submit to your manly wiles.  And if she didn’t cotton to your advances, you simply dragged her kicking and screaming all the way back to your place.  I remember reading an interview with Maureen O’Hara in which she described the scene where she is dragged through the countryside, and said the worst part about it was that it was filmed in actual grazing pastures, so by the time it was over, she was literally covered in sheep shit.  I’ve gotta admit that I am still taken aback by the treatment of the fairer sex in The Quiet Man, but honestly, once you get past its misogynistic undertones, it really is a charming film.  Seriously.

Movie Night: Brief Encounter (1945)

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Director David Lean is best known for filming romantic epics as lengthy as they are beautiful (Doctor Zhivago – 3 hrs. 20 min., Lawrence of Arabia – 3 hrs. 48 min.), so it comes as quite a surprise that he managed to capture arguably more romance than all of his films combined in a mere ninety minutes with his moody monochromatic 1945 classic, Brief Encounter. I honestly cannot believe it took me this long to see this movie, as I’ve always considered myself a David Lean fan.  I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve seen Bridge on the River Kwai or Lawrence of Arabia, but for one reason or another, I never got around to watching this Criterion Collection classic until today.  And now that I’ve finally seen it, I would argue that this film is every bit as good as any of his work.

Based on a play by Noel Coward (who also produced the film), the story involves a month-long love affair between a bored housewife (Celia Johnson) and an equally bored doctor (Trevor Howard).  Both characters lead their lives in a monotonous routine, but by mere happenstance manage to encounter each other and inevitably make an indellible impression on one another.  Over the course of the film, the two doomed lovers (quite tragically) never manage to fully consummate their love affair.  In fact, I think their affair stops at first base.  I wonder if the film’s moralistic overtones were due to the cinematic morays at the time, or if perhaps it had more to do with the fact that the film was just so damned British.  It’s of no consequence, however, as there are enough Freudian sequences of trains to keep the sexual tension more than palpable.

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plenty of steam and trains going through tunnels, if you know what I mean

When I say the film is British, I mean that the film is British. This might put off some American viewers (I would presuppose the same kind of viewers who might be put off by black and white films or subtitles), but I say “fuck them”–they have no business watching this movie anyway.  Any viewer with half a brain and a heart will quickly overlook the British contexts of the film and see the story for what it is (undeniably honest) and the characters for who they are (undeniably human).

Hands down, the best thing about the film is Celia Johnson’s performance as the tortured Laura.  In fact, the film is worth watching for her performance alone–she was absolutely brilliant.  Primarily a stage actress, she detested acting in films, but when Noel Coward himself read the part to her, she consented to taking on the role and was rewarded with an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.  (She ultimately lost to Olivia de Havilland, which I find highly suspect considering the two actresses bear a striking resemblance to each other; I can’t help but wonder if the Oscar voters confused the two.  No knock on Olivia de Havilland–Celia Johnson was just that good.)   There are several wonderful moments of internal monologue from Johnson’s character, such as when she’s contemplating her conflicting emotions about the affair:

This can’t last. This misery can’t last. I must remember that and try to control myself. Nothing lasts really. Neither happiness nor despair. Not even life lasts very long. There’ll come a time in the future when I shan’t mind about this anymore, when I can look back and say quite peacefully and cheerfully how silly I was. No, no, I don’t want that time to come ever. I want to remember every minute, always, always to the end of my days.

In fact, the writing in the movie is almost as good as the acting.  Consider this heartbreaking exchange between the two paramours:

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Him:  “I do love you–so very much.  I love you with all my heart and soul.”

Her: “I want to die.  If only I could die…”

Him:  “If you’d die, you’d forget me.  I want to be remembered.”

Holy fucking shit… how bad ass is that!?!  But then again, what is a love affair without passion and regret?  Not much of a love affair, I reckon.

The film also manages to capture what very well might be the single most poignant parting scene in cinematic history.  The last moment to be shared by the two lovers is brutally interrupted in the most obnoxious manner, and upon having to leave, he simply places his hand on her shoulder before he walks out of her life forever.  When he touches her shoulder, I fucking feel it.  I can feel the anguish and the heartache–the fleeting passion and finality of it all–and I swear to God, it hurts me almost as much as it hurts her.  That’s how powerful this scene is.  And that’s how good this movie is.

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