Talking of movies that are outside the ISCFC’s wheelhouse, this is the sophomore directorial effort of Courteney Cox, ex of “Friends” and “Cougar Town”, one of the great sitcom actresses of recent decades. She’s previously directed 2012’s TV movie “Tallhotblond” and a ton of episodes of “Cougar Town”; for a script, she picked David Flebotte, a TV writer/producer on shows like “Desperate Housewives” and “Masters of Sex”.
It’s a curious film, for sure, and if you were being dismissive you could handwave it away as a sort of sitcom version of “American Beauty” crossed with 90s indie favourite “Beautiful Girls”, but I think it’s worth discussing in a little more detail. Seann William Scott is Ted, the saddest of all the sad sacks – in the “here I am at the bottom of the lake, now here’s the stuff that got me to this spot” opening, his father dies, he’s bullied at school by a teacher and an actual bully, he lives an utterly average life until his girlfriend leaves him (Elisha Cuthbert, so he must have been doing something right) and then, finally, comes to a decision. He’s going to kill himself, but first he’s going to go back to his home town, thank the one girl who was kind to him at school, and confront the bullies.
From the off, and I hate being this dismissive towards it, we get characters straight out of the book “Wacky Small-Town Folk…For Dummies!” His brother is the Sheriff, and is oblivious to how much his wife hates him; his wife walks in on houseguests in her “sleep” and masturbates, craps on her husband’s pillow and so on; their son is a closeted gay jock; his mother came out late in life and is now married to a female Elvis impersonator; the movie is dotted with them.
There are lots of more real-feeling people, though. The former bully is now kind family man Rob Riggle, who instantly apologises and becomes a good friend. He meets Greta, the evil teacher’s granddaughter, spills his entire plan to her, and she decides to film his last days so he doesn’t have to leave a suicide note and because that’s the sort of thing characters in movies like this do. She’s Olivia Thirlby, who we last saw as Judge Anderson in the amazing “Judge Dredd” movie, and she is a chameleonic actress because I didn’t even spot it was her til the end credits rolled. I honestly thought she was a high school student until she talked about her job, which made the giant neon “LOVE INTEREST” sign above her head a little weird; I just found out that she’s 29 to Scott’s 39, which I suppose is perfectly reasonable for the movies.
Everyone appears to have been waiting for Ted to arrive in order to either deliver a monologue about their own failed lives, or to make some enormous change. Will the kid come out? Will Rob Riggle kill his abusive father? Will the unhappy couple realise they’ve got problems and break out of their rut? Will Greta tell her dark secret? Will his old friend from school leave her husband? Will Ted realise his problems aren’t actually all that bad?
The answer to all these questions, after the requisite amount of quiet conversations and shocking reveals, is “whatever the nicest possible option is”. It’s a well-made film – Cox films everything unobtrusively but it looks great, and there’s not a single weak performance among the bunch – but it’s so earnest, and so absolutely obvious, that I’m wondering if Cox, Flebotte and their producers had ever watched any movies before. Rather than allowing us to figure out what characters are going through, the movie just tells us straight out, and there’s no subtext to any of it – it feels like a million other “man goes back to home town to confront demons” movies, although with an extra-happy ending. Don’t think too hard about the movie’s treatment of suicide, either.
But after all that…indie romantic comedy-dramas are only formulaic if you’ve seen a lot of them, and I guess Cox will bring a new group of fans who won’t have seen all the tropes beaten into the ground before. It’s a lot of fun, with the sitcom bona fides of its creators ensuring there’s a nice mix of the low-key and the broad, and although Thirlby is a little too good to be true, I buy the warm heart of the movie completely. I’m a sucker that way. Aside from one bit – if the cop dad has a gay mother who he apparently loves, why is he so worried about the prospect of his own son’s homosexuality? – it’s pleasingly free of plot holes too, so if you’re in the mood for being absolutely positive everything will turn out okay, and it does, then this is worth a watch I reckon.
Rating: thumbs in the middle