Written and directed by John Hindman, The Answer Man starring Jeff Daniels and Lauren Graham tells the tale of a reclusive best-selling author whose misanthropic tendencies all but rule his life until he meets Elizabeth, a chiropractor who straightens him out in more ways than one. Though first-time director John Hindman deserves credit for putting together a romantic comedy that is gimmick free and thought invoking, it doesn’t help that The Answer Man takes a page (or several) straight out of the magnificence that is As Good As It Gets.
There’s only one mean-spirited, off kilter and down right bigot I can handle, and that’s Melvin Udall. For all its familiarity, The Answer Man is bearable, but not bearable enough to keep me from waiting, and wishing and hoping for plot development that never came.
Celebrated author Arlen Faber “redefined spirituality for an entire generation” with his book, “Me and God.” Twenty years later, his status as the man with all the answers hasn’t changed, although he wishes it would. Irritable and self-absorbed, Arlen wants nothing to do with the readers and crowds that seek him out until he happens to meet Elizabeth, a chiropractor dealing with the perils of being a single mother when he throws out his back and crawls (literally) to her office. Fascinated by her demeanor and obliviousness to his celebrity status, Arlen begins to form a strong bond with Elizabeth, despite his antagonistic tendencies. Playing second fiddle to Arlen and Elizabeth’s relationship is Arlen’s quasi-friendship with Kris, a book store owner who recently finished rehab and is trying to find meaning in his life. The film also stars Kat Dennings of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist fame and Olivia Thirlby (The Wackness, Juno)
- Lauren Graham – Fans of Gilmore Girls will love Graham’s nonchalant demeanor and sarcastic lines. Her interactions with other characters, including her son and assistant are natural, unlike the rest of the cast, whose dialogue seems forced. Graham has genuine appeal and is probably the one thing that kept The Answer Man afloat its 95 minute duration.
- The Concept – Author writes best-selling book that changes a generation’s relationship with God, but author’s relationship with humanity gets a big fat fail. It sounds great, and is quite the step away from the usual drama that ensues in cookie cutter romantic comedies, without coming off as overtly religious or heavy — Unfortunately the story did not live up to expectations.
- The Mail Man – Arrested Development will recognize Tony Hale as the persistent mailman who would give his life to meet his idol, Arlen Faber. Hale is slightly good comic relief in a film that struggles to be wholly romantic or comedy, especially in a scene where his family joins him to sing a song to Faber like misplaced carolers in the wrong season.
- The Book - A book called “Me and God” in which the author claims to have spoken to God and received answers to pertinent questions sounds really intriguing. In fact, I’d love to read it – and seeing as to how that won’t happen because it doesn’t actually exist, I would have liked to see why exactly people were so fascinated with this book. Besides a few shots where a few pages of the book run across the screen during the opening montage, there is never any explanation what kind of questions the all-knowing Arlen supplied the answers for or why it’s so celebrated. The bottom line is that it’s unrealistic to expect an audience to understand the caliber of claims made about a novel when they’re given no insight about it, other than the fact that the it’s so popular, that a 20th anniversary edition has been printed.
- Delivery - Watching The Answer Man was like waiting for the punch line that never comes, and there was nothing in the 95 minutes that made it lean towards either romantic or comedy. Sure, there was a love story brewing between Arlen and Elizabeth, but the sparks seemed forced, not only between the characters but between the characters and the audience, and funny moments did ensue, like Arlen referring to himself as Uncle Zebulon during a conversation with Elizabeth’s son’s teacher. Nothing elicited more than just a faint chuckle. The interactions all around seem contrived, which definitely leaves much room for improvement for The Answer Man.
- Olivia Thirlby and Kat Dennings – Apart from the occasional line, both Thirlby and Dennings are absent for most of the film, their roles blending into the background so much that you forget they’re there. Thirlby plays the wide-eyed, shy secretary at Elizabeth’s chiropractic business, while Dennings is the one and only free spirited employee at Kris’ book store. Coming off from such films as The Wackness and Nick and Norah respectively, both of their performances fall flat, although this is really no fault of their own. Their supporting roles really offer no support at all and despite track records in the romantic comedy genre, their skills aren’t utilized.
The Answer Man’s spirituality angle is quite well done, so if you’re weary about seeing a God film, don’t fret. What should be a bit troubling is that The Answer Man doesn’t have enough, well, “umph” to steer it towards being a comedy or a romance, and ultimately a romantic comedy. Despite its unique concept, the film falls flat, from the performance to the chemistry and over all general flow of the storyline. While Graham’s acting skills shine through, and the love story basically stays on life support throughout the film, with a little improvement, The Answer Man could play out well.
Opens on July 24 in selected theatres. Directed and written by John Hindman; Executive producers, Rachel Cohen, Daniel Crown, Michael Lesser; Original music, Teddy Castellucci; Cinematography, Oliver Bokelberg.