Barry Munday

Reviewed By brianorndorf
Posted 12/18/10 01:14:16

"A case of the Mundays"
3 stars (Average)

Take a cursory glance at the comedy “Barry Munday,” and it might appear as an extended “Napoleon Dynamite” riff, delving into the lives of those cursed with social awkwardness, bad hygiene, and budget clothes. Mercifully, the picture submits a little more effort than cruel mockery, struggling to extract a sense of profound characterization out of surface mannerisms. It’s an oddball feature lacking a fine point to tie it all together, but it spotlights a cast game to try something new for a change, committing to the aimlessness with endearing slack-jawed concentration.

A mysteriously effective ladies’ man, Barry Munday (Patrick Wilson) has fallen into despair after a movie theater attack required doctors to amputate his testicles. Hoping to rebound from such horrific trauma with the help of his mother (Jean Smart), Barry is instead greeted by the wrath of Ginger (Judy Greer), a frazzled, bitter woman impregnated by the unlikely stud months earlier -- a life-changing event he doesn’t remember. Taking kindly to the idea of fatherhood after his castration, Barry gives himself entirely to Ginger and her family (including Cybil Shepherd and Malcolm McDowell), only to find amorous attention from her sister, Jennifer (Chloe Sevigny).

Based on the novel “Life is a Strange Place” by Frank Turner Hollon, “Barry Munday” retains the episodic feel of a literary adaptation, struggling to develop a larger flow of drama to keep the characters working towards a goal. It’s a character piece, but only in a floundering sense, as first-time director Chris D’Arienzo spends most of the film isolating eccentricity and humiliation, searching for a way to build a meaningful narrative out of Barry’s graceless behavior. It’s a story of emotional growth in small doses, without any seismic interpersonal activity that encourages interest. Frankly, nothing about Barry or his troubles is particularly fascinating -- a feeling seemingly shared by the filmmaker, who spends too much time wallowing in distracting nonsense, hoping affected peculiarity might translate to charm. From a storytelling standpoint, it doesn’t.

The actors fare much better with the kooky stuff, especially Wilson, who displays a real gift for silly business here that he’s never shown before. Clearly enjoying his time as a schlub, Wilson comes across loose and communicative, playing Barry with a series of broad reactions that express more bewilderment than stupidity, charmingly working the string of embarrassments. A womanizer without a plan, Wilson finds a sympathy about Barry that’s fun to watch. Despite the strained Jared Hess-like decoration, some human qualities are preserved in the work. The same goes for Greer, who has an even more drastic appearance than Wilson. Perhaps not the most dimensional role, Greer still manages to find unique flashes of spirit within Ginger, making an amusing foil for Barry and his developing domestic ideal.

Barry faces a question of paternity, a confusing full court press of flirtation from Jennifer, and the partial loss of his manhood. And that’s pretty much it. There’s not much to “Barry Munday,” but the cast manages to unearth a vague sweetness, keeping the characters as human as possible while the rest of the film keeps urging them into cartoon mode for reasons unknown.

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