However, Jake, played brilliantly by Elias Koteas, possesses and increasingly expresses in full, his interior but soon frequently exterior bouts with his existential joys and pain.
The root of the dilemma is Jake's inability, since he was a young man, to sustain a romantic relationship. (He is divorced and slipping in and out of a long-distance relationship with Sheryl (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who lives with her child in "cold" Chicago, as opposed Jake's perpetually sunny Los Angeles.
At the beginning Jake, speaking to the audience, tells his story against the backdrop of a party at his house. The actor cast to play Young Jake (an excellent Mike Vogel) brings a fine insouciance, to the point of indifference, to the role.
Jake's confusion and consternationapproaching a nervous breakdowngrows, and, the film's plot, set in motion, becomes quite a lot of fun. Suddenly, surprisingly, more Jakes appear in the movie, on the set, and into Jake's "real" life.
Goldberg and Koteas, work wonders with this conceitJakesat 20, 30,and 40. In less skillful hands, and with a less gifted actor, this would not works at all, but here it works beautifully, and when it works especially well, it is a delight.
We follow the "real" Jake's" struggle to come to terms with himself, and the women in his life. This begins with our introduction to the 17-year-old Jake (Kevin Railsback), who refers to himself as Damien. Railsback nicely captures the vanity and naivety possessed by teenage Jake, as does his first love Joanne (Liana Liberato), who will morph into an especially graceful Jane Seymour.
Visited by the ghosts of bedrooms past, Jake has ample opportunity to express his desire for that one true, lasting love. This admission is represented both comically and dramatically, but is best captured by Jake's best friend, a remarkable sweet and accessible Beth (Virginia Madsen).
To look deeper in the cause of his "inability" to love for any time, Jake looks back to his parents, who also visit him. He sees their 55-year marriage as an ideal, so one does not have to be a Freudian to suspect that his metaphor for authentic love, longevity, may not be a perfect guide to life. That said, the appearance of his father and grandfather are a particular treat, as old Jewish men intruding on their child's/grandchild's life. Their visits are among the most entertaining and revealing in the movie.
Jake's mother is kindness personified, so one has to look past the surface to see what role, she played informing Jake's ambivalence not only about commitment, but also about the nature of love. Is love liberation of the soul or its confinement? Is the beast enjoyed best in a cage, or chased into the unknown?
In the end, a kind of détente is reached between the different Jakes and Jake himself. The sun shines both literally and metaphorically. No, there is no sudden realization, no fixing on the right love, no deus ex machinathat, if possible, will come in the sequel.
For now, the love that preserves Jake is self love, not damaging as narcissism, but not liberating as Conrad observed, "Into the destructive element immerse." One suspects Jake is determined to pursue his ideal, and, whether or not he succeeds, is anyone's guess.
Two final notes: The first, Gia Mantegna is superb as Jake's precocious but not jaded daughter. She steals every scene she's in. And, finally worth noting is the music by Daniel Adam Day, which is light and pleasant and works as an adhesive that keeps the Goldberg's tone and manner intact throughout. The choice of Mr. Day was one of Goldberg's many inspired decisions.
I recommend unreservedly this film for men of all agesbachelors, Lotharios, fathers and sonsas well as women trying to understand difficult men, but especially for couples who every so often catch a glimpse of themselves in the mirror, and note something less than perfect. Or those who look too closely at a photograph to find some mote or imperfection.