Life has its downs for James, living with his mom in Chicago at 39, an aging performer at Second City, eating and weighing too much. A woman he's been dating drops him, as does his agent, her brother. James turns down roles in local TV, roles that make him sad. Someone's remaking his favorite movie, "Marty," a role he'd love, but he doesn't even get an audition. He has a minor meltdown when talking at a grade school career day. Things look up when he meets the quirky Beth at an ice cream shop. Can James make a career for himself, move out from mom's, and find someone to eat cheese with? Or is he destined to watch Jackie Gleason and be Marty for the rest of his life? Written by
Modest Comedy About a Lonely Sad Sack Boasts a Smart Cast to Overcome Its Familiar Premise
Any movie that offers Bonnie Hunt, Sarah Silverman and Amy Sedaris in the supporting cast has to be well worth watching, and comic actor Jeff Garlin takes advantage of the terrific talent he recruited for his 2007 directorial debut, a sad-sack comedy about an overweight man who feels out of step with the world around him. Familiar as Larry David's manager Jeff on "Curb Your Enthusiasm", Garlin plays James, a still-struggling, 39-year old Chicago actor who still lives with his widowed mother. His self-esteem is so low that he can't meet women, but it's the comical way he views his single status that makes his dilemma involving. If the storyline sounds a bit familiar, that's because the film is partially a tribute to the 1955 Ernest Borgnine classic, "Marty", about a lonely Bronx butcher living with his meddlesome mother. In fact, Garlin uses "Marty" as the play which James is desperate to do since he is so empathetic to the character's situation.
Naturally there is a love story of sorts in this new millennium version, and Silverman plays Beth, an off-kilter, sexually voracious ice cream parlor server who takes him on an underwear shopping spree. Their best scene together is in his favorite convenience store where they improvise different characters in different aisles. Hunt plays a lonely elementary school teacher who shares a passion with James for jazz musician Ben Webster. They meet accidentally in a record store and then again at a career day at her school where he hilariously exposes his sexual neuroses in front of a classroom of first-graders, including his best friend Luca's pert daughter Penelope (played by Dakota Fanning's look-alike baby sister Elle). In a wedged-in cameo and looking quite a bit like Jerri Blank, Sedaris plays the school's counselor who speaks to James after his inappropriate monologue. David Pasquesi plays Luca, a retirement home manager, and his scenes with Garlin have an easy rapport that makes their friendship easy to believe. Almost stealing the movie is character actress Mina Kolb, who plays James' pixilated mother with pluck and heart.
There are also unexpected cameos from teen idol Aaron Carter and Gina Gershon (don't ask but the set-up is funny), as well as sharply played bits by director Paul Mazursky (as the snaky director of a candid-camera-type show, "Smear Job"), Tim Kazurinsky (as the unsuspecting victim of that show) and Dan Castellaneta (as the tough-love convenience store owner). With his rueful bouts of insecurity and self-loathing, Garlin's comic sensibilities resemble those of Albert Brooks, and the casual dialogue at its best reminds me of "Modern Romance" and "Defending Your Life". The one persistent problem I had with the film is pacing as some scenes dragged out longer than necessary. The problem is more evident in the first half when Garlin is trying to establish the right tempo, and the lack of real conflict adds to the sluggishness. Regardless, what he does well is capture that gnawing sense of desperation one feels upon the revelation that life is not what it is supposed to be, that a significant other may be out of reach, and that a steady diet of junk food eaten on a car hood is the only sure thing when it comes to gratification.
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