Couples Retreat (2009) -vs- Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)

Couples Retreat -vs- Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Bryce Zabel, Editor-in-ChiefThe Smackdown

Broken couples going to island paradises to repair their damaged relationships, or try to, ought to be funny. Sex, sun, surf, drinking, dancing, music. And in the case of both of these films, throw in actress Kristen Bell and you should have a real party. Well, you’re half right.

One of these films (either Couples Retreat or the previous year’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall) is an honest-to-God attempt to make a film that just happened to shoot mostly in a tropical paradise. The other is a film that looks like it had the same party-energy behind it as an old Burt Reynolds buddy-fest where the main goal is to go someplace fun, shoot a film and stay up nights getting crazy and drinking too much. Which is to say that one of them works and the other doesn’t.

The Challenger

Couples Retreat asks us to believe that, on a week’s notice, four couples drop what they’re doing in order to go together to a couples relationship weekend that looks like it’s the shiny blue waters in Bora Bora or Tahiti.

Naturally, the whole thing has been misrepresented, and most of our vacationers, who thought counseling was optional, get a lot more than they bargained for.

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The Defending Champion

Forgetting Sarah Marshall came from the Judd Apatow factory and concerns a Hollywood editor who goes to Hawaii to forget his TV star girlfriend, only to find her at the same resort shagging some British sexaholic in the bungalow next door. There’s a sub-plot about singing vampire puppets, but don’t worry about that now.

If you’re squeamish about full-frontal male nudity, then this film could put you off.  But it’s so casual, it’s just odd.  And, when it’s done, it seems to add to the humor.  Not for kids, based on that, and content.

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The Scorecard

Let’s talk authenticity. Crazy as the set-up is for Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the film actually delivers some real emotion. Jason Segal’s character really is in pain, and the relationship isn’t easily put back together. In Couples Retreat, there’s not a single relationship in four couples that feels like the real deal, and chemistry between the partners is non-existent. Also, Forgetting Sarah Marshall has one big laugh after another while Couples Retreat lurches from one contrivance to another and never really gets its engine started.

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The Decision

Couples Retreat really, really doesn’t work, and you shouldn’t even waste your precious time watching it on DVD. The cast is top-notch, but they never gel. In contrast, Forgetting Sarah Marshall works almost all the way through, and even if you’ve seen it once, you’ll probably enjoy seeing it again. It’s crude, it’s hysterical in places, and like I said, it feels like life, or at least what passes for life in the movies. And that was worth the price of admission.


About Bryce Zabel

Drawing inspiration from career experiences as a CNN correspondent, TV Academy chairman, writer/producer and fast-food cook, Bryce is the Editor-in-Chief of Movie Smackdown. While he freely admits to having written the screenplay for the reviewer-savaged "Mortal Kombat: Annihilation," he hopes the fact that he also won the Writers Guild award a couple of years ago will cause you to cut him some slack. He's also a member of the Directors Guild, creator of five primetime network TV series, and author of a new non-fiction book about UFOs.
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