What would life be like if Neil Simon wrote a movie about Ferris Bueller hitting middle-age, as a hack writer on a sitcom, addicted to gambling? It would be this movie, and that’s exactly why you should see it.
It was written and directed by Peter Tolan (a name that sounds like he should be a Monkee). He’s written for the shows Rescue Me and The Larry Sanders Show, and has done a handful of screenplays (Stealing Harvard, Analyze This, Analyze That). And aside from the tonal shifts that some won’t care for, I loved this dark comedy.
Some of the characters are unlikable, sure. Some people might have a hard time with that, especially when it’s Matthew Broderick. One of the interesting things about his character in Election is that he was a good guy, but he did a few bad things (rigging a school election, cheating on his wife). Yet we could see from all his other actions that his heart was in the right place. In this, you never really see that. I don’t mind, but many will.
It’s a shame, because the studio is really having trouble marketing this movie. It reminds me of the Broderick picture The Last Shot (2004). The commercials were hysterical, with Alec Baldwin as an FBI agent getting the young screenwriter to do a movie. Broderick doesn’t realize it’s all just a ploy for an FBI sting. He’s thrilled his first movie is being made. The studio changed the name, delayed the release, and it eventually went straight to video. It’s all so baffling, when you see the garbage that does come out and passes as “comedy.” And it’s one of the reasons we love the opening scene that shows Broderick writing for an unfunny sitcom.
Broderick’s marriage to Lorraine (the always great Maura Tierney) isn’t going well, and she asks him to help find niece Amanda (Brittany Snow, in a break out performance). I guess she figures he knows his way around the town, him having a gambling addiction and all; probably not the best choice of person to send to sin city.
She’s working as a prostitute, and the family wants to get her in rehab. Of course, he gets to Vegas and finds Amanda, and finds the poker tables. He does also try to talk her into rehab, but she’s having none of it.
The interesting thing is, it seems she has her life together a lot more than her uncle.
There are times this goes from being a Neil Simon style comedy, to more of a Woody Allen neurotic comedy, to as dark a comedy as can be made. That makes it a bit uneven, but I was along for the ride. It also came across as a lot more realistic than most comedies of this nature.
The way the casino tries to get the prostitutes out of their lobby, or the sleazy pit boss played by Steve Coogan. He’s one of the greatest comedic minds around. Their interactions were so fun, I proclaim those scenes funnier than Garry Marshall’s casino scenes with Albert Brooks in Lost in America.
There’s also something interesting about seeing Las Vegas in movies when it’s not always the lights, show girls, and glitz. It was fun in Los in America to hear them vacuuming the carpets while she played roulette. In Swinger’s it was fun to watch them sip drinks late at night and flirt with waitresses on the wrong side of 40. And it’s fun here, to watch people with a lot of vices, sinking lower and lower. Painful, but also entertaining in some sick way.
There are scenes where Broderick has dinner at Amanda’s, and is almost convinced she does have a decent life as a prostitute. Then comes her goofball boyfriend, providing some hysterical moments between the two. Since Broderick has some great scenes with Snow, as well as this boyfriend…you wonder if he’s just great playing the straight man, or if he’s just lucky in that he’s done a lot of really good movies.
Another scene with Broderick that might appear cliché, but is a blast, has him running into Amanda’s pimp. He doesn’t think it’s really her uncle and that gets his hands broken in a dumpster; yet the guy ends up wanting him to read a spec script.
A few other fun moments involve Ed Begley, Jr. playing himself on a sitcom, Broderick taking ecstasy, and a really powerful ending.
This is one of the pleasant surprises of the year, and it’s going to be a movie people get on Netflix and ask “How come I never heard about this?” Well, now you have.
I’m giving it a B.