(Goldwyn) Jennifer Aniston, Steve Zahn, Woody Harrelson, Fred Ward, Margo Martindale, Tzi Ma, James Hiroyuki Liao, Katie O’Grady, Gavin Bristol, Yolanda Suarez, Robert Zorn, Dominic Fumusa, Moreen Littrell. Directed by Stephen Belber.
Loneliness can do funny things to you. It sucks away your self-confidence and makes you do crazy things, things you’d never do if you weren’t feeling that ache of having nobody in your life. Call it desperation if you will, but we definitely find ourselves reaching out for someone, anyone who we can hold onto in the night, even if it’s the absolutely wrong person. Once in a great while, that person who seems so wrong can turn out to be surprisingly right.
Mike (Zahn) doesn’t have a whole lot of what you’d call direction in his life. He works for his parents doing odd jobs and acting as night manager for the budget hotel they run in Kingman, Arizona. He has nobody in his life, whiling away his days eating Chinese food in a deserted restaurant, going to yoga classes and smoking like a chimney. His mother (Martindale) is very ill, and his father (Ward) is a Vietnam veteran who came back from the war emotionally shut down.
Into their lobby walks Sue Claussen (Aniston), a beautiful, elegant woman who sells art for corporate display. Mike is immediately smitten with her, and tries to win her with free wine (albeit free bad wine) that he delivers to her room. He’s awkward and a little bit creepy, but there’s something sweet about his awkwardness. When he remarks that he admires her butt, on a bit of a whim she allows him to touch her butt as long as he promises to leave her room immediately after.
Something about the incident sticks with her and when she’s about to check out, she seeks him out in the laundry room instead and the two wind up having passionate sex on the folding table. She heads back home to Baltimore, thinking that this strange entanglement is over.
Someone forgot to tell Mike, though, and he follows her to Baltimore. Instead of a one night stand, the two begin to find something more between them than just two people reaching out in the night. They begin an on-again, off-again long distance relationship (that is admittedly mostly off-again). After Mike’s mom dies, he finds out that Sue has moved to Aberdeen, Washington (the home of the late Kurt Cobain for trivia fanatics) to be with her punk rocker turned yogurt magnate ex-boyfriend Jango (Harrelson) who wants to marry her. Mike follows her there with nothing to lose, determined to see if love can triumph over need.
Writer-director Belber crafts a thoroughly sweet confection that is neither dazzling nor especially insightful, but then again it doesn’t really have to be. The leads are intensely likable, and you root for them to get together, despite all their hang-ups and emotional scars (Mike’s mom characterizes Sue as “a bit of a long-shot, in an emotionally annihilated way,” which is as eloquent a description as any. The film moves at a deliberate pace that doesn’t feel forced nor overly long.
Zahn always seems to play the sweet loser in most of his roles, and he does it to the hilt here. His Mike isn’t the sharpest knife in the butcher block, but what he lacks in smarts he makes up for in heart and determination. Aniston delivers another underrated performance, giving her character nuance and emotional depth. The one quibble I had was that she should have been a little bit frumpier in appearance; here she looks like a movie star, gorgeous and well-dressed. That doesn’t really fit well with the character.
Another thing to look for here is Fred Ward. He only has a few scenes as Mike’s dad, but he makes the most of them. I’ve always considered him to be a criminally underrated performer who should be getting more and better roles. He has a scene near the end of the movie with Zahn that he absolutely nails – it’s one of the best moments in the film.
This is essentially about two characters making a journey. In Mike’s case, he’s maturing into a man with an idea of who he is and what he wants to be, whereas for Sue she’s coming out of hiding from behind her causes and neuroses and able to appreciate herself for who she is, and allow herself to feel love and receive it.
You won’t get the kind of grand insights that you might be looking for in an independent film, but then again, why should every movie have to supply that? This is like a Krispy Kreme doughnut fresh from the oven; a lot of air and not a tremendous amount of substance and sure, you know it’s absolutely empty calories but my, oh my it tastes good and makes you feel warm inside.
WHY RENT THIS: The movie oozes charm and sweetness like a jelly doughnut. The leads are likable and just awkward enough to be sweet.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Jennifer Anniston is a bit too glamorous for her character. The ending is a mite too Hollywood for my tastes.
FAMILY VALUES: Not much at all to dissuade the kids from coming along. If they like “Friends” they’ll probably enjoy this.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Director Stephen Belber’s previous job was as a playwright.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Nothing listed.
FINAL RATINGS: 6/10
TOMORROW: Battle in Seattle