Director Nicholas Stoller – Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Director Nicholas Stoller – Forgetting Sarah Marshall

By Beth Accomando

Forgetting Sarah Marshall is a dick flick in more ways than one. Not only does star Jason Segel bare all but he also wallows (hilariously) in a male version of chick flick romantic trauma. When I ask director Nicholas Stoller about the label he laughs.


“I personally love romantic comedies so I would just look at it generally as a romantic comedy but from the male perspective.”


Segel plays Peter, a man coping badly with his break up to the titular Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). He tries to console himself in Hawaii but his ex turns up at the hotel with a new more successful rock star boyfriend (Brit Russell Brand nearly stealing the show). 

Stoller says, “Jason [who also wrote the script] and I bonded early on over our shared love of grown men crying. We think that’s the funniest thing ever. I said to someone we’ve brought back the grown man crying but then I realized we hadn’t brought it back, it never existed in cinema, the grown man crying really, really hard and pathetically.”


Advertised as a “romantic disaster,” Forgetting Sarah Marshall is about misery of being dumped and then shifting through the emotional wreckage. Produced by the prolific Judd Apatow, the film taps into the same kind of comedy as Knocked Up. Both Stoller and Segel worked for Apatow on the TV show Undeclared. Now Apatow has mentored Stoller’s transition to feature film directing. Stoller says working on a TV show with people who were friends led to a very collaborative creative sensibility.


“There’s no one trying to steal the spotlight,” says Stoller, “We all understand that the funniest stuff is often spread evenly amongst everyone. There’s a fair amount of improv in our work, but there’s also a process from TV that we all like which is basically to hammer at stuff so there’s a joke every 30 seconds rather than every five minutes.”


But what makes the comedy a cut above is that it’s not just sitcom gags; it’s comedy that comes from character and from characters we like. Even Sarah develops some appealing vulnerabilities. 


“We strive for heart at the center,” says Stoller, “and that’s what ends up making people laugh more. So it’s important that you give all the characters three dimensions. It would have been very easy to paint Sarah as the bitch but that’s not interesting. We wanted Kristen Bell to start out as if she’s going to be a parody of the dumb Hollywood actress but over the course of the movie you realize that she’s just a complicated messed up person like anyone else. Anyone who’s been through a break up – unless you are literally going through – later on realizes that everyone’s at fault.”

The break up that starts the film is likely to start some buzz since it involves full frontal nudity – on the part of the guy. Jason Segel based this on his own break up and decided he needed to “show his unit” as part of the scene.


“Jason just showed up and refused to put clothes on that day,” says Stoller, “And it worked because he’s just in a very vulnerable state so it doesn’t feel extraneous. And it actually did happen like that to him so it feels like you could not be more vulnerable then when you’re naked. But I didn’t know what the rules were.  It turns out that the MPAA rule is that the male member can’t be above 90 degrees. Anywhere above that it becomes NC-17. But below it is fine. We had a protractor on the set.”

Forgetting Sarah Marshall stays below the 90-degree mark but raises the bar for romantic comedy. It also marks the very promising debut of director Nicholas Stoller.


Forgetting Sarah Marshal opens April 18.