Screens

Review: Somebody Up There Likes Me

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Nick Offerman in 'Somebody Up There Likes Me'
  • Nick Offerman in 'Somebody Up There Likes Me'

The resting expression on Max's face is reminiscent of Popeye's beloved Olive Oyl smelling Limburger cheese for the first time. Max is in his late 20s, but his stance is that of a teenage boy told he can't use the car after all. Played by Keith Poulson, he's the central figure in Somebody Up There Likes Me.

The film's detached tone and precious affectations are off-putting at first. So much fancifully-presented dourness! But the strong cast, especially the amazing Nick Offerman (Ron Swanson in Parks and Recreation), does good work with a screenplay that isn't as clever as it needs to be. Once you adjust to director Bob Byington's M.O., there are pleasures to be had in this odd duck.

What Byington does is present a series of vignettes covering 35 years, periodically jumping forward five years at a time. Most time transitions are indicated by cartoons of clouds. The appearances of the supporting cast change a little over the years - as much as the budget for a low-budget movie can allow - and Max's son, played by several actors, grows up at the normal rate. He sports the same clothing and cap over the years, however, to make it easy for viewers to identify him. Max, on the other hand, doesn't age at all. This could have something to do with a magical suitcase that emits white light and snow flurries when opened. No explanation is offered. Suffice the say that Byington is likely underlining Max's arrested adolescence.

The story begins with Max and his steakhouse coworker Sal (Offerman) chatting. Max is a sour smart-ass, Sal is a deadpan smart-ass. Things happen, flatly. Max catches his wife (Kate Lyn Sheil) is bed with another man and barely responds. Max marries Lyla (Jess Weixler), a coworker with an unbridled love of the steakhouse's bread sticks. They have a son, inherit big money from her father (Marshall Bell, the guy with the psychic baby growing out of his belly in the original Total Recall), let Sal move on to their estate, attend counseling with therapist Megan Mullally, etc. A babysitter (Stephanie Hunt) becomes a prominent player. So does Max and Lyla's fully-grown son, very well played by Jonathan Togo.

Affairs, successes, failures, births, deaths - it all seems so arbitrary, with the various scenes serving merely as excuses to let Max and Sal crack wise in different settings. But a curious thing happens - after a while, I came to believe that the arbitrary nature of the events was the point - affairs, successes, failures, births, deaths - it's all part of the cycle of life. As events occur, life hums on, with Max and Sal providing muted color commentary.

I didn't find Somebody Up There Likes Me as funny as others seem to, but I was fascinated enough by the curious offering to watch it twice. I'm not sure whether the film is lackadaisically profound or simply an exercise in weirdness. Re-reading the last sentence, I think that's a pretty good recommendation to see the movie.

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