Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Cinema File #138: "Small Apartments" Review

Krod Mandoon notwithstanding, I've always liked Little Britain's Matt Lucas. Whenever I see him pop up in something, I usually take it as a guarantee that I'm in for a strange, but also strangely charming performance. I just watched Small Apartments , an independent comedy where Lucas is on full display, both in terms of him being the lead and major focus of the movie, and in terms of him never putting on pants, and spending large swathes of the movie wearing nothing but a pair of presumably unwashed tighty whities. I've now officially seen more of Matt Lucas than anyone could ever want to, and despite an engaging performance and an accomplished supporting cast all pulling their weight as well, the result is more than a little underwhelming.

Small Apartments is the story of an introverted man who inadvertently kills his landlord and eventually finds some degree of salvation from his increasingly insular life as a result of his bumbling efforts to get rid of the body. If that premise sounds especially morbid, its only the first clue as to what you're in for. We see the world through the eyes of a man-child who is clearly suffering from some severe emotional problems, if not an outright mental disorder or two, and the resulting reality is replete with talking dogs, extended fantasy sequences in the alps, and a lot of awkward conversations. I don't have an issue with this in and of itself, but the problem is that in the end, none of it really amounts to much, and it just seems like its trying to be weird for the sake of weird.

Lucas' character is made interesting by the actor's natural offkilter charisma, which was enough to sustain me throughout, but even as I managed a consistent smile through most of his antics, I rarely found myself laughing out loud or noting any one moment or element as particularly indelible. The whole movie was like that for me, more pleasant than it probably should have been given the subject matter and style, but never rising to the level of being actually funny, or squeamishly uncomfortable, or any of the things it seemed to be trying for. It knows what it wants to be and sets up all the pieces well enough that you would think it would achieve its end, but then just sort of shrugs its shoulders and walks away before finishing the job.

All the denizens of the titular small apartments share a desire to cope with or escape from their crappy lives, save our hero who despite dreams of living in Switzerland seems pathologically incapable of even considering change. Johnny Knoxville plays a stoner committed to getting his life together one goal at a time, though he lacks the best priorities, Juno Temple plays a young girl eager to flee her one horse town and live the glorious life of a stripper, and James Caan plays an elderly widower who has turned to painting and pills to distract himself from his pain. By the end of course, through their connection to each other, they each learn that they've been going about things exactly the wrong way.

I should give special mention to Billy Crystal who shows up as a Fire Marshall investigating the land lord's death. He's delightful as always, so much so that I'm tempted to go back and watch that awful looking Parental Guidance thing he was in last year (mind you I say "almost"). Watching him play that same sarcastically charming character we've seen a thousand times made every scene he was in nostalgically worthwhile. Even so, the aspects of the plot not directly focused on Lucas seem a bit tacked on, as if at one point the story was more of an ensemble piece, until the most obviously interesting character took center stage and the rest of the stories were pared down to compensate.

Overall, Small Apartments is certainly watchable and even to a certain extent enjoyable, just not really all that exceptional. It appears to affect a posture of oddball nihilism suggesting more depth than it has, like a trashy unpretentious Wes Anderson movie. We get the set up of eccentric characters interacting in a way that highlights their unique strangeness without the need for all that much to actually happen to any of them, and it all wraps up nicely enough with a simple and identifiable message. Its the kind of movie that should be memorably crass, or disturbing, or something, but just ends up being mildly entertaining, emphasis on mild.

Oh, and Dolph Lundgren is in it for some reason. He doesn't punch anybody or do anything action oriented, so I can't fathom why he was cast in it. So there's that.

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