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by Jay Seaver

"One of the more original messy-marriage comedies you can see."
4 stars

SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2017: Zoe Lister-Jones has kind of a cute idea for a movie, and for the most part manages to get it to 90 minutes without having to load too much extra into it. It can be kind of a near thing; it's a fair number of quick hits at easy targets and not a whole lot of insight when the time comes to get serious, so a lot winds up riding on how its jokes play for the audience. But that is ever the way with comedies, and this one hits more often than it misses.

It's about Anna (Zoe Lister-Jones) and Ben (Adam Pally), married a while, feeling like they've underachieved career-wise, and getting to the point where it's kind of annoying that the only time they ever see their friends is at baby showers and kids' birthday parties, and that they aren't throwing those is a source of some tension. So they fight a lot. After goofing around with toy instruments at one of those parties, Ben finds his old guitar in the garage, Anna reminds him that she plays bass, and they decide to make songs out of all their fights, to get them out there and not directed at each other. It goes well enough to form a band with weird neighbor Dave (Fred Armisen) on drums, but they can't outrun the fact that, even if they've been making a game of it, they still clearly have problems.

Writer/director/star Zoe Lister-Jones doesn't get cute about building up to the movie's one-sentence description, nor does she drift far from it; at one point Anna says "we should make our fights into songs and sing them" and then the meat of the movie is them making songs about their fights and singing them. And even if these fights are often the staples of relationship-based stand-up comedy, the presentation is just different enough to make the punchlines work a little better and the point of view is just skewed enough in some cases to make a weird gag funny. That straightforward mission statement sometimes seems like it can lead to missed opportunities and misjudging how funny the other stuff is - Anna's rideshare fares seem like they'd work better as a running gag than a quick montage to illustrate how much her doing this rather than writing for a TV show like she should sucks (both spouses often seem to have only-in-Hollywood career issues), and there are also a fair number of drug gags that seem to operate on the assumption that watching people who are high is inherently funny as opposed to something that gets old fast..

It mostly works because Lister-Jones and Adam Pally are well-suited to this material and well-matched. There's a fast-paced comic intensity to the way that they play off each other, their quick banter easily selling the audience on the pair as a couple even if the fact that the whole movie is built around them fighting a lot might have the one inclined to give up on them as a couple early. There's a good sort of tension hidden underneath the fun back-and-forth, the sort that underlines the strong feelings they have for each other but also indicates that when things do blow up, they'll blow up good. Ideally, Fred Armisen's neighbor would play off them a bit better, but although he deadpans through a lot of scenes well, he's a little too dedicated in his own eccentricity to make much of a foil to Lister-Jones and Pally.

He's also tasked with delivering some pretty blunt "your issues are making things weird" lines at times. Lister-Jones often seems better at making jokes fit into the story than fitting story into the jokes, also stumbling a bit when finally zeroing in on the biggest source of pain in Anna's and Ben's relationship. The big turning point is a character we've barely heard, let a lone seen, before that moment explaining the differences between men and women, and while there's probably a lot of truth in that speech, it's not really about Ben and Anne specifically or them doing something, so it doesn't quite feel like they are getting anywhere and solving things themselves.

Fortunately, that part of the movie isn't what it rests on, and doesn't come close to cancelling out the many genuinely funny bits. It's a simple idea, but a fun one, and that makes the movie pretty successful.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=31018&reviewer=371
originally posted: 06/04/17 01:36:11
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2017 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2017 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Independent Film Festival Boston 2017 For more in the Independent Film Festival Boston 2017 series, click here.

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USA
  02-Jun-2017 (NR)
  DVD: 05-Sep-2017

UK
  N/A

Australia
  02-Jun-2017
  DVD: 05-Sep-2017




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