Normally, our site is full of reviews of horrible shark movies and low-budget sci-fi, but every now and again we need to stretch our critical wings a little. “Coffee Town” is the first film from College Humor, the comedy website which specialises in, to be honest, moderately amusing videos. Clearly their business model is working, because they’ve made enough to make a film, and here it is, available in a few cinemas but mostly on-demand services.
Glenn Howerton, one of the creators of “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia”, plays Will, a website manager who has his “office” in a branch of Coffee Town a few blocks from his house. His two best friends – Chad (Steve Little), an office drone whose workplace is across the street, and Gino (Ben Schwartz), maybe the world’s laziest cop, are able to spend tons of time with him there, and so their lives slowly progress. Singer Josh Groban is Sam, the film’s antagonist as much as it could be said to have one, the assistant manager of the shop who hates the people who use Coffee Town as their office for the cost of a few cups of coffee a day.
Two things drive the plot of this film. One is a woman, Becca, played by Adrianne Palicki (who is so beautiful that it seems unlikely she’d ever exist in a normal world like this), who Will and Sam sort-of compete over. The second is the news that Coffee Town is to be turned into a bistro, which means fancier décor, food, and later opening times so they can serve alcohol. It’s going to be a flagship store based around the fact that the area has a very low crime rate, which is at least partly to do with Gino not bothering to report any of them, a lovely touch. The solution to their problem? Rob the shop, so the crime rate goes up and the bistro idea goes elsewhere. Their planning of the robbery takes up the majority of the film.
There are three strands of comedy running through this film. Firstly is the Seinfeld-ian low-key, low-stakes conversational humour, usually when the three friends are sat around drinking coffee. Then there’s the Seth McFarlane-esque cutaway gags, and I think these two styles integrate pretty well. But then there’s the OTT stuff, the grossout gags and so on. This is the stuff that I don’t think works all that well. Steve Little is saddled with a lot of this, having to act the most deliberately crazy of the main trio, and while he nails some of it (the “straight-gay” conversation and the running gag about him really wanting to steal some stuff) too much of what he does falls flat.
Glenn Howerton is great, though, and shows himself to be a perfectly decent romantic comedy leading man. Josh Groban certainly enjoys acting, even though he’s not always great at it, and while she’s not given very much to do, Adrianne Palicki gives hints of an ability for ditziness. But Ben Schwartz steals the film for me, and while he’s occasionally too similar to his role as Jean-Ralphio on TV’s “Parks and Recreation”, most of the time he nails everything he does. The director, Brad Copeland, a first-timer who was one of the writers on “Arrested Development”, weaves in a few sub-plots featuring dead housemates (New Girl’s Jake Johnson, having a good time), an asshole who happens to have Down’s syndrome, the homeless guy who lives outside Coffee Town, and they’re mostly done well, although the film drags like crazy in the middle.
I think films like “Coffee Town” are the future. On a smaller scale, Splitsider did this with “The Exquisite Corpse Project”, and Netflix are doing it with TV shows; but what they’re showing is that you can circumvent the whole studio system and make your own movies. It becomes cheaper and cheaper to make a film that looks like it cost a lot, and if you’re a site like College Humor with regular visitors in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, then you’ve got a large audience to advertise to at no cost to yourselves. I think the idea is potent, and aside from its reliance on the coffee shop setting, there’s nothing to really separate a film like this from the most recent Jennifer Aniston or Katherine Heigl romcom vehicle. I hope it succeeds, and I look forward to more of these films.
The problem is, unfortunately, that it’s not quite funny enough. It could perhaps have done with deciding what sort of comedy it wanted to focus on, because there’s more than a hint of them throwing everything at the wall and hoping enough sticks…but I think there’s enough talent in front of and behind the camera, and I’m sure this business model will produce a really good film soon. Weirdly, it could have worked with less comedy in it, but I don’t think College Humor would have been thrilled if their inaugural feature was a fairly gentle romance about some slacker in his 30s trying to win over the hot woman in his local coffee shop.
So, big thumbs up to Howerton and Schwartz, thumbs sort of in the middle for everything else. I really wanted it to be funnier.