A review of “The Baxter” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: **

Rating: PG-13 for adult humor and sexual references

Run Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

 

 

This screwball comedy is a strained affair that screams wannabe from the opening frame.

Nebbish accountant Elliot Sherman (writer/director Michael Showalter) is a perpetual “Baxter”, the perennial third wheel for whom romance is always just out of reach. Elliot is allergic to peanuts, yogurt and lint, and all that that entails.

Naturally he finds himself curiously attracted to anyone willing to give him the time of day; in this case wacky office temp Cecil Mills (Michelle Williams). Before Elliot can act on his fledgling feelings a chic blonde named Caroline Swann (Elizabeth Banks) walks through the door looking for tax advice and exits with Elliot’s heart held firmly in her manicured hands.

Miraculously, Elliot finds himself center stage at the Big Show known as Romantic Love; engaged to his dream girl and struggling to hang on to her no matter what the cost.

That cost comes in the form of numerous tête-à-têtes with Caroline’s insistent ex-squeeze Bradley Lake (the enigmatic Justin Theroux), a handsome smoothie anxious to re-kindle the flame. Silly vignettes depict Elliot as sorely outclassed by the cooler-than-thou Bradley, over-emphasizing his goofy doofusness and the inability of Baxters everywhere to seal the deal.

 “Baxter” is well-meaning but bland as milquetoast. Showalter’s stodgy dialogue and look-at-me-ma posturing pushes the envelope to pathetic desperation but short of desperately funny. Showalter and Banks are a bad fit from the get-go but he and Williams exhibit a clumsy, winsome chemistry.  

Traditional narrative does nothing to set “Baxter” apart from its more finely-tuned genre counterparts, rendering it haplessly forgettable.