California No casts Noah Segan as Elliott, a fledgling writer whose whole life is thrown for a loop after he discovers, during couples counseling, that he and his wife are in an open marriage. It’s a far-too-cute-for-its-own-good premise that is, at the outset, employed to watchable effect by writer/director Ned Ehrbar, as the filmmaker delivers a fairly plotless narrative that’s buoyed by the charming work of its stars – with Segan’s affable turn as the easygoing protagonist matched by a strong roster of periphery performers. (It doesn’t hurt, either, that Ehrbar has peppered the early part of the proceedings with an inherently intriguing behind-the-scenes look at the movie-junket industry.) Ehrbar’s meandering modus operandi does, past a certain point, become awfully tough to take, while the ongoing emphasis on elements and subplots of a decidedly improbable nature slowly-but-surely triggers the movie’s downfall. The end result is a decent yet hopelessly erratic character study that doesn’t quite add up to much, with Ehrbar’s far-from-ambitious approach to the familiar material ultimately negating California No‘s positive attributes.
** out of ****