J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Somebody Up There Likes Me: Sorry, No Paul Newman in this One


Pizza and ice cream are a good combination.  Slacker man-children and family responsibility—not so much.  There is your take-away from Bob Byington’s emotionally frozen comedy Somebody Up There Likes Me (trailer here), which opens tomorrow at BAM.

Max carries his father’s legacy in a suitcase.  Whenever he peeks inside it glows.  Whether or not it is Marsellus Wallace’s soul, it seems to keep him looking youthful.  Unfortunately, he is not exactly young in spirit, having largely disengaged from the world around him.  He makes a stab at patching things up with his ex-wife, but her rejection hardly fazes him.  For the next thirty-five years, his life will revolve around people he knows from his crummy steakhouse job, including his best (and only) friend Sal, and Lyla, the “breadstick girl” whom he will eventually marry.

Time flashes forward in chunks.  Max has a son he is not interested in and passively watches his fortunes rise and fall (including the establishment of a chain of pizza and ice cream restaurants).  Fundamentally a jerkheel, he will even start carrying on with the nanny, which would be something of a cliché if he were not so indifferent to everything and everyone.

Essentially, Somebody is like the indie version of Adam Sandler’s Click, except Max really wants to fast forward through family life.  It is also mordantly witty at times.  Not surprisingly, Parks & Recreation’s Nick Offerman scores most (if not all) of the laughs as the sardonic Sal.  Jess Weixler adds a rather odd texture, portraying Lyla in an apparent state of arrested development.  Character actor Marshall Bell does his thing, glowering and growling as Lyla’s corrupt copper father.  However, as Max, Keith Poulson is only required to hit one note—extreme detachment—and hold it from start to finish.

It seems bizarre that Somebody would chose to re-use a title with such strong associations.  After all, Robert Wise’s 1956 Oscar winning film was the original Rocky.  Regardless, there are some wryly amusing lines sprinkled throughout Somebody, particularly those delivered by co-producer Offerman and Kevin Corrigan (making the most of an early but memorable cameo).  Yet, the consistently cold, cynical tone will leave most viewers scratching their heads, wondering just what exactly was the point of all that.  Still, nobody can accuse Somebody of falling into the indie sentimental quirkiness trap. Deliberately distancing, Somebody Up There Likes Me will only satisfy hardcore hipsters when it opens tomorrow (3/29) in Brooklyn at the BAM Cinematek.

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