This movie was the opening film at the Sundance film festival earlier this year, and from the first moments, that’s very evident. It’s so indie. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Melanie Lynskey (the “other girl besides Kate Winslet” in HEAVENLY CREATURES) stars as Amy, a recently divorced 30-something woman who has just moved back in with her parents while she gets her life together. She has a typical love/hate relationship with her mom (Blythe Danner), who’s constantly judging her. But her dad (John Rubinstein) is much more understanding, as the 2 bond while watching old Marx Bros. movies (which is where the title of the movie comes from as it’s the opening song of the comedy classic ANIMAL CRACKERS). Amy’s parents make her attend a dinner party with a potential business partner of her dad’s, but she wants no part of it. At the dinner though, she meets the 19-year-old actor son of the business partner, Jeremy (Christopher Abbott). They both wind up in the same room by themselves that night and end up making out. Amy doesn’t know what to make of it. She knows he’s too young for her, but they end up starting up a relationship that begins as purely physical, but ends up being something much more. The two are both afraid of making their relationship public for different reasons: Amy is afraid what her mom would think because of the age difference and Jeremy’s parents think he’s gay. How long could this go on, and will this end badly?
There’s nothing new here. It’s a very typical indie romance that throws in some awkwardly out-of-place humor into the mix, making the movie seem kind of schizophrenic. But somewhere in here lies a good movie. That’s mainly due to the wonderful performance and presence of Lynskey. She’s not the average leading lady. She’s beautifully plain and has got some curves on her. Casting someone like her really adds a sense of realism to the movie. She seems like someone you would actually meet in real life. If you cast someone, like say…. Natalie Portman, it wouldn’t be as believable. Lynskey is also a very talented actress, giving credibility to every situation, no matter how unbelievable it may be. When Amy begins to fall for Jeremy, the actress really lets you feel it. It’s great work. Blythe Danner is also very good as the overbearing mother, who is too self-absorbed to truly care about her daughter’s well-being. The other actors in the movie don’t seem to be in the same league as these two. No one is really bad, but they seem like amateurs when acting next to Lynskey or Danner. Especially Christopher Abbott as Jeremy. Even though he’s likable and charming, there’s something empty and flat in his delivery.
This is director Todd Louiso’s third film. While I haven’t seen his first (LOVE LIZA), I can honestly say that his new movie is much better than the abysmal THE MARC PEASE EXPERIENCE. The direction is pretty standard for an indie dramedy, but definitely not terrible. It’s just nothing special or different. Pretty safe. The movie is at its strongest during the scenes between Amy and Jeremy. These feel mostly genuine and have a very sweet quality to them. I also liked the scenes between Amy and her father, which were often touching. The mother/daughter stuff is okay, but we’ve seen this so many times before that it gets to be a little trite after a while. My main issue with the movie was the 3 or 4 instances of forced comedic situations. For the most part, the film has a naturalistic feel, but then a scene involving Jeremy’s mom walking in on Amy standing stark naked while she’s singing “O Canada” seemed like it belonged in a Judd Apatow film. There’s a few times the movie does things like this, and it took me right out of the movie. Which is too bad, cause there are some good scenes hidden in here.
The reason to go see this would be for Lynskey’s sweet, honest, and terrific performance as Amy. She’s completely committed to the character, even when the material betrays her. As far as Indie romances go, you can do a whole lot worse, but there’s nothing too terribly new here. And the movie is just not focused enough for me to completely recommend. It’s harmless, and there’s really nothing outright awful about the movie, it just could have been so much better if the filmmakers thought outside of the Sundance box for this one. ★★½ (out of ★★★★)
Rated R for language and sexual content.
Running time: 1hr 34min.