Three Comedies from First Look
Big Nothing (July 21/07)
Starring Simon Pegg and David Schwimmer, Big Nothing is an exceedingly dark piece of work that seems to revel in the various acts of brutality inflicted against its various characters - ensuring that, at the very least, the movie is one of the most refreshingly mean-spirited comedies to come around in quite some time. Schwimmer stars as Charlie, a well-meaning loser who hasn't yet found his niche in the working world - much to the chagrin of his compassionate yet frustrated wife, Penelope (Natascha McElhone). Charlie's fortunes seem to be taking a turn for the better after he lands a job at a call center, but - following his speedy dismissal - he's soon forced to collaborate with a co-worker (Pegg's Gus) on a seemingly simple blackmail scheme (Alice Eve plays fellow conspirator Josie McBroom). Director Jean-Baptiste Andrea has infused Big Nothing with a remarkably overt sense of style - peppering individual scenes with split-screens, weird angles, and even animation (!) - and the movie generally moves at a brisk pace, though the aimless vibe ultimately ensures that the film is never quite as compelling as one might've hoped. Pegg effortlessly steps into the shoes of an American character, while Schwimmer does a nice job of shedding the skin of his Friends persona (periphery performers Jon Polito and Mimi Rogers provide able support). And while it's impossible not to admire the downbeat, thoroughly bleak manner in which the movie concludes, Big Nothing can't entirely shake its similarities to the thematically-similar and far-superior Very Bad Things.
Though infused with several genuinely impressive performances and an effective opening half hour, Relative Strangers is ultimately revealed to be nothing more than a sitcom-level romcom that becomes more and more predictable and flat-out conventional as it progresses. Ron Livingston stars as Richard Clayton, a professional motivator whose life is turned upside down after he embarks on a quest to find his birth parents. Director and co-screenwriter Greg Glienna's bright, fast-paced sensibility is quickly replaced by a distinctly low-brow sort of vibe, with much of the film's comedic elements of a woefully over-the-top nature (ie Richard gets hit in the groin with an enormous cheeseball, Richard brushes his teeth with Preparation H, etc, etc) - to such an extent that the film makes the similarly-themed Meet the Parents look like a docudrama by comparison. Livingston is as affable as ever here and both Kathy Bates and Danny DeVito (cast as Richard's Southern birth parents) have a few chuckle-worthy moments, but the actors are generally lost underneath Glienna's unreasonably broad sensibilities.
Smiley Face is a seriously weird little comedy that casts Anna Faris as Jane, a struggling actress who finds herself thrust into a series of over-the-top misadventures over the course of one long day. The film's twist comes with the creeping realization that Jane is going to spend the entirety of the running time completely baked, and while one can't help but marvel at the degree to which Faris immerses herself in the role, it does become increasingly difficult to sympathize with her character as a result. Filmmaker Gregg Araki has infused the proceedings with a washed-out visual sensibility that admittedly does take some getting used to, though the cartoonish camerawork and broad cut-aways ultimately suit the material quite well. The inclusion of a few genuinely funny sequences (ie Jane's convoluted soliloquy connecting lasagna with James Garfield) ensures that the movie kind of grows on the viewer as it progresses, yet - once everything's said and done - there's simply no overlooking the pervading vibe of silliness.