Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Cinema File #163: "Why Stop Now" Review


I hate when movies start at the end, then flashback to show us how we got there. Rarely is this ever something that actually has a point to the story or the structure, and most of the time its just a cheap gimmick to try to do something other than a linear narrative, while being too lazy to actually think of an original way of telling a story.  To be fair, the movie I just watched, an indie comedy from last year called Why Stop Now, only sort of does this. It starts out with what we eventually learn is a flash forward to the middle, with a good 45 minutes left to go after we get back to the opening scene, and given how little happens before and after this moment, the preview of it is particularly unnecessary. Actually, now that I think about it, “particularly unnecessary” is pretty much this whole movie in a nutshell.




The story follows a hectic day in the life of an alcoholic underachieving piano prodigy roped into what I guess I’m supposed to see as a wacky and heartfelt adventure with his heroine addict mom and two bumbling drug dealers, while on his way to a high pressure audition. The set-up is actually kind of fun. The main character’s mom has finally agreed to go into rehab, but finds that without insurance, she can’t be admitted unless she tests positive, and since she stopped using a few days prior, the only way she can get in is if she gets high one more time, setting her and her son off on a quest to score from a crack dealing comedy team that leads to a series of escalating mishaps and life lessons. The problem is it jerks so wildly back and forth between maudlin and madcap that I'm never given enough time to find said moments moving or funny respectively.


This is the kind of movie that loves to have its characters pause in between their attempts at witty repartee and faux-outrageous hi jinks to make what I’m sure sounded like really profound observations about life and love when they were written in the script, but like many similar movies of its type, it mostly just devolves into pointlessness and pretension. It stars Jesse Eisenberg, otherwise known as the slightly less douchebaggy Michael Cera, who is as Eisenbergian as always, so if that prospect makes you throw up in the back of your throat a little bit like it does to me, best to stay away. The highlight is Melissa Leo as the mom, who is the only one in the movie able to pull off the balancing act I mentioned above, being simultaneously silly and heartwarming with neither element seeming contrived.


And also, Tracy Morgan is in it. Okay, I have to admit, I actually like Tracy Morgan, probably a little more than he really deserves. Most of this obviously comes from my general love of the television series 30 Rock which has imparted upon him a lot of proxy good will, and as much as he only just barely qualifies as an actor, he has a manic energy reminiscent of Chris Farley if you replaced the boyish charm with a more subversive menace. Hell, Norm MacDonald's not a great actor, but I still love everything he does (well mostly). And yet, as much as I wish it were so, Morgan isn't right for this movie. I don't know who would have been, as the character would seem at first blush to be right up his alley, but he just can't carry it. I get the feeling a lot of his lines were ad-libbed with his co-star Isiah Whitlock Jr., and so much of their dialogue just comes across as stale observational humor about whatever they happen to be around at that moment, almost none of it particularly funny.


Overall, Why Stop Now feels a lot like a movie I watched a few months ago called Liberal Arts, and a lot of low budget indie dramedies like it, where its clear the producers want to have a lot of interesting things to say, but when it comes right down to it, they don't, so instead they just hum a few bars and fake it. The jarring shifts between broad Arrested Development style family dysfunction and the somber, meditative addiction story left me thinking the movie would have been better served as either a straight up goofball comedy, or a full on serious drama, instead of this weird, unappealing mess in between. Its not the worst thing I've ever seen, or even close really, but its no where near worth me recommending it.
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