So, for this entry, The Robot Who Likes Pretty Things has a very special first: my first guest poster!
I saw this movie with my friend Sarah – of the very famous (in their own minds) Sarah Mac Band – and asked her to write something about it. I specified no format or any other requirements, and I think what she’s written is a nice change of pace from my usual drivel.
Her write up is first, followed by mine below. Let me know what you think! Should we have her back for future reviews?
I’m under the impression as I write this review that mine will be posted in tandem with Jer’s. So, for that reason, I’ll skip the formalities: rates, stars, good quote, and plot, with the assumption that Jer’s already taken care of that for you guys. I’ll just chime in with my commentary on the film itself—which, honestly, a week later, I’m still on the fence about.
I have a Master’s Degree in the mental health field. I learned how to be a counselor and all of the little tricks that you use to make connections with your client and get them to drop their guard and open up. Because of this, I expected that when I went to counseling for the first time that I would see through everything that they were doing and be able to resist pouring my soul out. Not so—and I was irritated with myself for giving into the little tricks even when I recognized them as little tricks. [Side note: Don’t fret, giving in to the little tricks made for a great counseling experience and I came out okay!] I felt the same way about Nick et al. in this film.
I am a complete layperson when it comes to film. I don’t understand the techniques that filmmakers use to manipulate the audience’s emotions, I don’t know how to get them on your side or scare them or make them wistful over the love story. But there were definitely times in this film that I thought, “I think that the filmmaker is intentionally trying to make me uncomfortable right now.” And even though I pulled out of the suspension of reality (and getting swept away in the story and forgetting about real life is my favorite part of seeing a movie) to analyze where they were trying to take me, I still got sucked into the intended emotional journey and spent the majority of the film feeling uncomfortable and yucky.
Our protagonist was not the kind of guy that we’d really want to empathize with. He was just kind of a screw-up who couldn’t get his act together. Were I his wife, I would have probably left him, too! Nick lived in a normal, middle-class neighborhood in Arizona. Nothing fancy or flashy. He had plain old normal middle-aged man clothes over his tubby little tummy and frequently his shirts were drenched with sweat. His best friend and AA sponsor was a goofy, weenie, weak little guy that seemed insincere from the beginning. You might expect that there would be a little subtle humor in the contents of the lawn, where they might throw something unexpected at you to spice it up, but alas no. You might think that the relationship that he forged with his super-cute pregnant neighbor or the kid that he hired to help out with his yard sale would have some heartwarming, redemptive value, but those stories never developed and the relationships seemed surface and guarded.
Additionally, the acting was sort of flat and underdone, like what you might find in community theater—even Laura Dern’s.
I found myself thinking, “huh, this is a brutally accurate depiction of real life… they’re not glitzing it up one little bit for Hollywood.”
But, maybe that’s part of the take home message in this movie.
You can do whatever you want to mask it, but in the end, when you’re stuck in unhealthy, destructive cycles in your life (whether alcoholism, as it was in Nick’s case, or any number of other things), there is no glitzing and glamming it up. It’s just uncomfortable and yucky and desperate—there may be little glimpses of good in a robust round of “your mama’s so fat” jokes or a special moment shared with a weird guy at the yard sale who really wants a new recliner, but they don’t cover the fact that your life still sucks and your wife just left you for your best friend because you can’t stop drinking beer—and PBR at that!
All of this being said, I would probably still pay another $9 to see it again. I liked Kenny (who is played by the son of the late Notorious B.I.G.) a whole lot. I also liked Sam, the cute pregnant neighbor—had this movie been real life and not just a sad depiction of real life, I would have totally pursued her to be her new best friend in Arizona. I also like Will Ferrell in dramatic roles far more than I like him in funny, obnoxious, fart/burp, teenage boy comedy movies.
I even said to Jer on our way out, “Do you think that he’ll be nominated for an Oscar for this role?” Maybe Jer got sucked into the filmmaker’s techniques to manipulate emotions and was uncomfortable too… because he just rolled his eyes at me and said, “no way.”
My usual review…
Will Ferrell, Rebecca Hall, Christopher Jordan Wallace, Michael Pena, Laura Dern, Stephen Root
Nick: Why don’t you want to play soccer?
Kenny: Black people don’t play soccer.
Nick: Whole continents of black people play soccer.
On the same day that Nick (Ferrell) loses his job, his wife leaves him, puts all of his possessions on the front lawn, and changes all of the locks on the house. Nick sees no alternative to just living on his front lawn while falling back on his drinking problem. With everything he owns laid out for the world to see, Nick has to take a long look at his life, how he got to where he is, and where he might be going.
It was tough writing a plot summary for this movie, mainly because it never seemed to be going much of anywhere. Maybe that was intentional, as a way of making the audience feel what Nick was feeling, but it wasn’t tremendously enjoyable. I’m fine with movies meandering around, but in this case it felt like the movie was just sitting there…on its lawn…drinking a beer.
That’s not to say there aren’t good things about the movie. The performances are good, though it seems like everybody was hopped up on some of the Valium Nick’s neighbor Samantha (Hall) gives him at one point. Most of the movie is very low key.
It has some funny moments as well, most of which are shown in the trailer, which I’m sure will lead to some disappointed audience members who were hoping for another Will Ferrell comedy. I knew better, but I didn’t think it would be quite this much of a downer. I haven’t seen a character this put-upon since I watched A Serious Man (which I enjoyed even less than this one).
Obviously there is symbolism in Nick’s decision to keep or sell all of his belongings. Can he let go of the stuff weighing him down and move forward? Or will he just sit and dwell on it? The problem is, the movie never really delves too deep into those issues. We see glimpses of his past, and the psychological baggage that has a hold on him, but nothing too detailed. The movie seems to operate on a surface level rather than really getting its hands dirty. I kept wanting to get to know Nick a little bit better. To get to the root of his problems so I’d feel even more sympathy for him, but at the end of the movie I didn’t feel like I knew the character much better than when it started.
I like Will Ferrel in more serious roles, but I guess I’d prefer the movie to have a little more focus and momentum, like Stranger Than Fiction. When a movie sits on its lawn, in a comfy leather chair, with its feet up, and then grabs a drink…that’s when I start hoping that the sprinklers will turn on…
Avoid being an alcoholic.
10 – 2.2 for not delving deep enough into Nick’s character and problems – 1.5 for the story being so deliberately paced = 6.3