Eccentric Brian (Dano) is trying to find his place in the world when he meets kooky, vulnerable Happy (Deschanel). Their romance is strewn with issues and blocked by her demanding dad (Goodman). And someone seems intent on killing Brian...
PAUL DANO’S BRIAN Weathersby is the youngest and oddest in an odd family — a loved, last gasp baby to now elderly parents (Ed Asner and Jane Alexander) and puny kid sibling to two older, bigger, higher-achieving brothers. He’s a mild-mannered twentysomething who works without much energy selling high-end mattresses, but his curious lifelong goal — the inspiration for which is unexplored — is to adopt a Chinese baby. While getting on with the bureaucracy attending that endeavour, he’s smitten with equally adorable misfit Harriet ‘Happy’ Lolly (Deschanel), a home-schooled poor little rich girl. The keynote of their awkward romance is anxiety, their adrift-in-the-worldness exacerbated by fathers with big presences. His (Asner, the endearingly wacky patriarch) and hers (John Goodman, a booming loudmouth reminiscent of Foghorn Leghorn) seem to be engaged in an off-camera wager to see which of them can be the bigger scene-stealing hoot. Call it a draw, boys.
Intruding in the general amusements — Brian’s buddy-talks with a college friend, his meek pursuit of fulfilment, and the blossoming of his relationship with Bambi-eyed Happy amid their crazy families — a mysterious homeless man is stalking Brian with inexplicably homicidal intent, popping up in strange places for a couple of scary, violent assaults. Or, and this is the ‘oh dear’ part, his assailant may be imaginary, a metaphor for his confusion, fear, paranoia... Well, never mind trying to work it out. The writers don’t seem to have.
Indeed, Dano and Deschanel glue the scattershot material together by suggesting much more emotional depth and character nuance than the screenplay accounts for. The collision of reality with absurdity has charming unpredictability and delightfully deadpan drollery, thanks in no small part to the good performances all round. But too many interesting thought-processes, subplots, characters and bizarre details are abandoned before they add up to anything. And the distracting determination to be as quirky as possible at every turn takes away from the potential for genuine humanity or meaning. So it’s very likable, but ultimately frustrating: all it seems to come to is that it’s okay not to be ordinary or vaguely normal.
Not quite this years hip little indie romantic comedy that could, as it clearly aspires to be, but smart-ish and drily funny while overly littered with twitches and tweaks.