Or: How a film put me back on track after depressive, obsessive, repetitive comfort viewing.
A few years ago I went through what was then the most catastrophic break-up I had been through after a two-year relationship. I'll spare the gory details, especially since reconciling with said other party, but this isn't even the story of that.
This is the story of Nicholas Stoller's Forgetting Sarah Marshall and how through it I recovered and got back on my feet. A film that went from a fun first watch years prior to one of my favourite movies of all time. A tale of the power of cinema, catharsis, and resonance.
And how obsessively watching the same movie isn't necessarily a bad thing.
While I cannot entirely remember the background to my first relevant viewing of Forgetting Sarah Marshall it's safe to say where it cropped up one fateful evening on a whim.
See while most people have playlists and songs that generally get them feeling all the emotions and catharsis through love woes – everything from The Beatles, Paramore, Taylor Swift, Ingrid Michaelson, and even YouTube's Tessa Violet and dodie have been in rotation for me and my music taste that needs improvement – I have this stack of movies I get through:
- (500) Days of Summer
- Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
- Annie Hall
- High Fidelity
- When Harry Met Sally...
Then, remembering how Forgetting Sarah Marshall was obviously about similar themes, I gave that a go.
And goddamn who knew what was gonna happen to me was gonna happen.
See, Forgetting Sarah Marshall – debatably Stoller's best directorial effort – is still no Academy Award-winning movie. It's not written by the great Charlie Kaufman or Nora Ephron and it's not directed by Woody Allen or Rob Reiner. And yet...
It's the perfect film I needed to see in that moment in my life. And those films are the ones that stay with you. And that's why Forgetting Sarah Marshall suddenly made a huge impact on my media consumption for the next few days, weeks, and potentially months.
At this point in time I used to record the films I watched on a website called Letterboxd. Over the course of a few days I had recorded that I had seen Forgetting Sarah Marshall enough times for friends to go “Are you okay?”
This was an acceptable concern. This was a period of time where I continued to expand my cinematic experiences and write about them, so seeing that the last 12 movies I recorded included 6 viewings of Forgetting Sarah Marshall obviously generated the question.
It took me back to a day when my DVD collection was about a dozen movies rather than the hundreds and how I used to just watch Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl over and over and over again. By March 2015 I was working in a cinema with access to free movie tickets, Netflix, Sky Go, and a DVD and Blu-Ray collection to rival most developing cinephiles. And yet…Forgetting Sarah Marshall was in constant rotation.
It became my comfort film. Food for my mind and soul. It was that reassuring comedic film that would never cease to make me laugh or quote or just all-out enjoy. And so it just stayed in my DVD player.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall wasn’t just funny to me, but it was just that voice that made me think I was not alone. It’s a work of fiction, but it’s the power of cinema and stories where you see something and it resonates. The film is full of silly moments and jokes, and yet it was comforting knowing and seeing that it wasn’t just me being silly, but a film had thought about and portrayed similar things.
Thankfully I didn’t go through said break-up naked post-helicopter-dick (Which was we know from our friends in The Lonely Island is actually the way to impress a chick), but seeing Jason Segel’s character go through so many throwaway moments in the aftermath of that hilarious moment in the film is where I felt and laughed more. Whether it’s getting stupidly emotional over Project Runway or listening to “Nothing Compares To You”, Forgetting Sarah Marshall mines jokes in the irrational haze that connected with me.
In fact it’s the subtlety in Forgetting Sarah Marshall – if that’s even possible with full-frontal break-ups, Russell Brand, and Hawaiian escapes and escapades – which makes the film all the more one of my favourites. Segel’s character goes through quick flashbacks of happier times with the titular Sarah Marshall (played by the wonderful Kristen Bell) that perfectly encapsulate when you do that exact same thing for real. Especially inspired by an moment or object in everyday life.
The way in which films like Forgetting Sarah Marshall just perfectly take a snapshot of something where you just connect and nod and resonate is when you know you’re watching more than a film. I’d hope that many other people have many other films that speak to and through them more than just entertainment. It’s those scenes where you quote lines from not just because they’re funny, but because they speak to your experiences. It’s those moments that fill you with pride or laughter or make you cry a few tears more because you know exactly when that moment of fiction becomes a reality to you.
Across 2015 I saw Forgetting Sarah Marshall so many times I lost count. It was the equivalent of gorging on ice cream or eating cheeseburgers. It was a film I put on through the months following my break-up and it became a comfort obsession that kept me on solid ground. It was silly, funny, cathartic, and inspirational. It connected with me in such a way that I could actually think around my issues and compartmentalise things in the right way. It made me realise where my head should be going, and it made me realise that I’m not alone, I’m not the first or last to go through things, and maybe I should continue my silly dreams and projects – even if it’s a Muppet-esque musical about Count Dracula.
Two years later – in the fallout of the first of two break-ups with someone I’d go through in that year – I asked one of my friends if I could come round and watch Forgetting Sarah Marshall with him at their house. Yet again I found myself enjoying and finding comfort in the film, but it wasn’t quite the same.
I’ve since tried to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind my situation, taken off (500) Days of Summer, and tried to remember When Harry Met Sally…But I haven’t quite gotten my groove back.
So I may have Forgotten Sarah Marshall, but the search continues. There’s always another movie that’s going to click perfectly. Which will fit wonderfully at the right moment in time.
And I hope you manage to find and enjoy the films that do this for you. Cherish them. Watch them. Learn them. Remember them. Don’t be afraid to watch them like it’s the only film you have. Because you’ll still have film and you’ll still have yourself.
And what could be better than that?