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Aardvark

Right before the movie started my wife said, “I bet they called this movie Aardvark because that’s the only thing that hasn’t been used in a movie title yet.”

I replied, “Using the same movie titles has never stopped anybody before.”

But for kicks I googled. There was an Aardvark movie 8 years ago. This indie film stars three very talented folks — Jenny Slate (please see Obvious Child if you haven’t yet), Jon Hamm, and Zachary Quinto (Spock) who also produced the debut film by Brian Shoaf. It’s a shame that Shoaf couldn’t show off their talents, by giving them a better script.

The tone of the movie is all wrong. Shoaf didn’t seem to know what kind of picture he was making; and I’m guessing the doctors that deal with mental illness will hate the vagueness and how those disorders play out.

Richard Gere played a homeless guy in Time Out of Mind, which was awful. It did have an interesting way of showing how the character doesn’t even realize he’s living on the streets.

One movie I liked more than most critics — Being Flynn — did an interesting job of slowly showing us how Robert De Niro’s character was mentally ill, and sometimes homeless, despite being a somewhat intelligent and somewhat functional member of society.

This movie gives us a little of that, with Quinto working at a coffee shop, and taking the initiative to see a shrink (well, licensed social worker) and tell her (Slate) he’s hallucinating and has had problems in the past. His main problem now is that he thinks people he sees on the street are his famous TV star brother (Hamm). In a humorous conversation with a homeless woman, he ends up thinking it’s really his brother in disguise. After all, the dude studied clowning in France.

It would’ve been better if the movie had more humorous moments like that conversation. It might have also worked better if we’re left to wonder ourselves if the famous actor is really his brother or just something he thinks due to watching him incessantly on TV.  

Instead, we get a grumpy boss he works for at a coffee shop. A mysterious woman that shows up at the coffee shop, who decides to have late night walks with him, despite his awkwardness (and despite his annoying haircut/bangs, which makes him look like a character out of Dumb & Dumber).

There’s also no backstory on Slate’s character, aside from a lazy screenplay that simply shows her running into two different ex-boyfriends, both of whom are idiotic. One is a nerdy guy that shows up on the trail she always jogs, awkwardly asking her out again. The other is her mentor in the psychiatric field, and he snaps at her for showing up unexpectedly.

The set-up for all these characters is interesting enough, but then the movie never really goes anywhere, and you stop caring about what will happen.

One of my pet peeves in movies is when a crazy character can slip in and out of their mental illness when it helps the narrative. For example, a few months ago it happened in the Leisure Seeker (Helen Mirren, Donald Sutherland). In this movie, Josh (Quinto) can barely function, standing in the cold staring off into space holding milk he’s supposed to bring to the coffee shop…to making jokes and being flirtatious with his shrink.

The scene with Hamm and Quinto at the end is rather powerful, but doesn’t quite feel earned. I also felt similar scenes were done better in other films. For example, the brothers talking at the end of Rainman, or the troubled teen (Jesse Eisenberg) going to see the scary squid at the end of The Squid and the Whale.

My wife was distracted by Quinto’s horrible hair. I was more distracted by his overacting. Both of us agreed that his character should’ve been more likable, instead of just strange. You’re never really rooting for him.

This gets 2 stars out of 5.