The First Step To Finding Your Destiny Is Leaving Your Mother’s Basement
As a follow-up to Cyrus, I was rather looking forward to this film. Jason Segel is almost always a sure-thing and with the Duplass’ distinct style, I was prepared for a solid, thought provoking comedy. But it’s not. It’s a poignant drama with humorous moments and underlying theological and philosophical concepts. The problem is, as heart-warming and sweet as it was, I just didn’t like it.
Ever watched the film Signs while on drugs? Well, Jeff [Segel] has.. a lot. So much so, that the opening ten minutes focus solely on Jeff’s analysis of Signs and his growing belief that fate and determinism guide him. The story takes place over one day, starting with Jeff receiving a phone call (looking for a ‘Kevin’), then traversing Baton Rouge searching for signs and evidence of some sort of cosmic fate. Simultaneously, we are introduced to Jeff’s brother, Pat [Helms], who is a bit of a self-centred dick – illustrated by his surprise purchase of a Porsche, much to the dismay of his wife, Linda [Greer]. The third story follows Pat and Jeff’s mother, Sharon [Sarandon], who receives several instant messages from a secret admirer. Frustrated and lonely since the death of her husband, Sharon appreciates the attention, pondering who the individual is and speaking with her co-worker, Carol [Chong], for advice. The second act kicks off nicely with Pat and Jeff accidentally meeting up and stalking Linda through the city as she spends her day with a man.
The cornerstone to this film is the central acting talent: Segel embodies the absent minded Jeff perfectly but also brings a loveable sweetness to him, ensuring he’s not a complete loser that no one can identify with. If anything, we envy him and his almost carefree hippie outlook. Then there’s Ed Helms’ Pat, who is openly cringe-worthy in the first act but after an hour manages to redeem himself and you slowly begin to root for him. Finally, Sarandon is refreshingly brilliant, utilising a very subtle performance, the likes of which we haven’t seen from her in a very long time. The supports, (Greer and Chong) offer decent reinforcement, managing to shine through despite the modesty of their roles. Ultimately, in lesser hands, these characters would have been flat archetypes and the story wouldn’t possess nearly as much redeeming weight as it does.
The more I think about this film and the more I write about it, the more I dislike it. Leaving the cinema my impressions were fairly mediocre, I was entertained but I didn’t necessarily enjoy the film, it was moving but wholly predicable; bit of an odd one. But when you break it down, beneath the brilliant performances and reasonable direction, you’re left with a series of events without resolution and excessive loose ends. I appreciate this is probably the point of the film, to offer the audience a snapshot of life without overly glamorising it but it is my belief that without dramatic consequence and psychological scarring, people fall back into their old habits – one of the things that pissed me off about Crash.
You could argue that any genre piece has a reasonably identifiable formula but if you’ve seen enough quirky independent releases, you’ll know what to expect from this film. Ting-ting-a-ling score that happily bounces along from start to end, tight close-ups and random zoom work, powerful familial confrontations, charmingly unrealistic setups and resolves, random encounters that endear you to the human spirit, slow drawn-out pacing, unassuming costumes and locations, downplayed cinematography, etc. As an audience member you either love this kind of artwork and actively seek it out or you absolutely hate it. Having seen so very many films of this nature, I knew exactly what was going to happen from the very start and was desperately waiting for the film to surprise me. Unfortunately, it didn’t. This film is far from awful, at no stage was I ever sickened or appalled, just thoroughly disappointed.
11th May 2012
The Scene To Look Out For:
I have no desire to spoil the crescendo but I just wanted to briefly talk about its disorientating nature – largely in comparison to the first two acts. You know the story is building to some final cosmic alignment but when it arrives you’re reminded that you’ve been waiting for so long that it’s almost startling. Not the nature of the development but the sheer fact that it exists, when compared with the previous hour and a half. Anyway, my highlighted scene starts when Jeff hops off Kevin Kandy’s van and sees his brother at a motel and concludes with Jeff and Pat sitting in the bath. That’s as much as I’ll say without ruining everything. For that one moment, the sublime acting, decent pacing and natural camerawork all come together and produce a frankly surprising scene that really captivated me. The rest of the film was alright.
Each character personifies what they’re supposed to be (the frustrated drifter, the selfish sibling/husband, the frustrated widow) perfectly but seeing Susan Sarandon working slightly outside of her comfort zone – much more so than Segel or Helms – was a nice touch.
“First of all, Yoda would fucking.. be awesome in a business meeting”
In A Few Words:
“The typical independent festival film; as such you’ll either love it or hate it. My opinion..? It was kinda nice”
Total Score: 2/5