Friday, December 2, 2011

Answers To Nothing

Apropos Of Nothing, Answers Blowing In The Wind

Elizabeth Mitchell as Kate and Dane Cook as Ryan in Matthew Leutwyler's drama "Answers To Nothing". 
David Jones/Roadside Attraction


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
ay, December 2, 2011

Matthew Leutwyler's drama "Answers To Nothing", opening today in select cities including San Francisco, is a film that blows in the wind, a light, inconsequential and maddening experience, one which made me angrier than I expected to be.

Set in Los Angeles, "Answers" contains at least four stories: one about a missing girl and possible suspects; another about a marriage affected by adultery; one about a police officer who's daughter's death reverberates; one about a black woman who says she hates black people, and another about a sister whose selfishness alters the life of her brother.  Stitched together like Altman slices, Mr. Leutwyler's film evokes a Los Angeles full of quirky, sad people who have become that way through life's trials and tribulations.  (Ethan Hawke once said in "Training Day" that L.A. is full of "smiles and cries", and this film shows much of the latter.)

Dane Cook is Ryan, a man in an adulterous marriage.  He and his wife Kate (Elizabeth Mitchell) try for kids but there's strain in the relationship -- Ryan's infidelity.  In addition, Ryan has to handle his mother's delusional behavior (Barbara Hershey) as he comes to grips with the disappearance of his dad from the household after many years.  Allegra (Kali Hawk) goes into a meeting with fellow television writers at her near all-white workplace and talks about how much she hates black people.  Their reaction is priceless (as was mine.)

I won't go through the other stories involved, though some intersect, and many don't seem to.  Mr. Leutwyler, originally from San Francisco, assembles a talented cast but a group of characters I just didn't care about.  There's not one who inspires any kind of passion or reason to invest in.  Not one -- even the supposedly sympathetic characters -- and there's at least one of those here.  The script by Mr. Leutwyler and Gillian Vigman needed more development and punch -- several rewrites would have done the trick.  Characters are undone or betrayed by last minute tricks and contrivances that irritate rather than inform their circumstances or growth.  Some characters "grow", while others lack appreciable arc -- or maybe that is their arc: that they remain stunted.   

If anything, "Answers To Nothing" is guilty of trying too hard.  It is overwrought and full of the clichés that make you wish the film were a comedy, and Mr. Leutwyler's film would have functioned better that way.  Comedy is admittedly harder to do in general, and particularly on film.  It requires deeper, more nuanced treatment and a level of acting that exposes raw edges or glimpses of the seriousness that arise from comedy.  Drama requires playing situations for serious all the time, and to keep that undercurrent on display, percolating until the tension dam explodes.  As a result with drama there's less wiggle room available, and any comedy that arises in moments that aren't supposed to be funny subverts dramatic intent completely. 

Mr. Cook, a comedian who has made a foray into several films over the years, looks slightly out of his element here as Ryan, the lead character.  Mr. Cook plays Ryan as a deadpan guy, miserable and without feeling.  There's no range or room for Mr. Cook's character to evolve, so his Ryan comes off as stiff and far too serious in a serious film, which in a sense is its own kind of comedy, but the kind that brings derisive laughter. 

"Answers To Nothing" shows us a group of characters but doesn't know what to do with them.  These self-centered, self-pitying types float in and out of stories that have been done better many times before, and, if nothing else, with more spirit or daring ("Magnolia", "Shorts Cuts", and even the Oscar-winning "Crash", a film I wasn't fond of.)  However well intended Mr. Leutwyler and his cast are, "Answers To Nothing" lacks confidence in its sense of story and convictions.  The film's most dramatic moments often feel like remnants of a comedy that had been left on the cutting room floor of a comedy film.  In short "Answers To Nothing" is restless, unfocused and putrid, one of the poorest films I've seen in 2011.

After sitting through more than two hours of "Answers To Nothing", I found myself getting increasingly angry at the pointlessness of what I was watching.  When several characters do about-faces I didn't believe in their abrupt change, and the acting never rises to the level of cultivating such credibility.  "Answers To Nothing", which tries to provoke for provocation's sake, made me say, "what the hell was that I just watched?"  Somewhere in here there was potential for a decent film, but between the idea and its final execution on the big screen, much was lost in translation.

With: Elizabeth Mitchell, Julie Benz, Miranda Bailey, Mark Kelly.

"Answers To Nothing" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for some strong sexual content, nudity, violence and language.  The film's running time is two hours and three minutes.

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