Stars: ** 1/2
Rating: R for language, shock value
Run Time: 1 hour, 49 minutes
What starts out as a promising, quirky relationship film tilts too steeply into movie-disease-of-the-week territory, thanks to a bit of silly scripting and a load of heavy-handed sentiment.
The always excellent (and rarely onscreen) Albert Brooks headlines as Randall, an emotionally closed salesman schlepping upscale gear at the conservative Rutherford’s Haberdashery at the Century City Mall in L.A. Disenfranchised teen Jennifer (Leelee Sobieski), she of the pierces in all the wrong places, happens by the men’s emporium reluctantly seeking employment. A friendship is born, and it’s a strange one, indeed. Randall, whose idea of personal commitment is a magazine subscription, is hyper-precise and lonely; Jennifer, oddly fond of penning suicide notes, is angry, scornful, and outspoken. Against all odds, the dissimilar pair find something to like in one another.
As healthy friendships go, this one’s a doozy. Randall and Jennifer participate in a supportive give-and-take that includes opening up to impulsive ideas such as tattoos (him), and presenting yourself to the world without fright-inducing black Goth-wear (her). Their carefully constructed bubble is burst when Jen learns that Randall is seriously ill.
The first hour of this sticky melodrama is impudently witty, thanks to Brooks’ comic timing and Sobieski’s willingness to indulge in her character’s cynically macabre psyche. Unfortunately, the script plays loose with the false notes, interjecting them where genuine sincerity would suffice.
Film is careful to avoid unseemly or sexual overtones, instead focusing on the unlikely nature of a pair of oddball loners. Director Christine Lahti demands too much from her actors – ultimately insisting on blood from a stone. Nice effort, better luck next time.