EmptyTribeca Film Festival
NEW YORK -- The story of a screenwriter going through a psychological crisis, this debut feature written and directed by "Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo" scribe Harris Goldberg has an inevitable autobiographical feel. But while some viewers are likely to identify with the existential angst experienced by lead character Hudson Milbank (Matthew Perry), others are likely to feel as "Numb" as he does. The film recently premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Sinking deeper and deeper into a depression that his constantly eating screenwriting partner (Kevin Pollak) is unable to grasp, Hudson is so bereft that he can't handle watching anything on television more stressful than the Golf Channel. Unable to work or maintain a relationship, his sole stimulation is an increasingly troublesome shoplifting habit.
His attempts at getting help via therapy are less than fruitful, with one shrink (Bob Gunton) prescribing an ever-changing series of medications that do little more than put him into a vegetative state. He does make some progress with another (Mary Steenburgen, giving a very funny performance), only to discover when she becomes romantically obsessed with him that she's even crazier than he is.
Things start to change for him when he meets the beautiful Sara (Lynn Collins), whose easygoing ways and generous spirit help bring him out of his shell. But even that relationship becomes threatened by his inability to embrace life's risks.
There's an obvious personal resonance to Goldberg's screenplay, but the film never fully succeeds in its attempted straddling of psychological drama and broad comedy. Whenever we start to become emotionally involved in the main character's angst, the filmmaker throws in gags to provide comic relief. The result is neither as broadly funny nor as moving as it intends to be, and the tonal imbalance is ultimately disorienting.
This is evident in the performance by Perry, who though working here in a more serious tone than usual, is generally more successful with the comedic than dramatic demands of the material. He scores every laugh that's expected and more, but he never quite connects to the character's despair in a way that would make us truly care.
Director-screenwriter: Harris Goldberg
Producer: Kirk Shaw
Executive producers: Mary Aloe, Michael A. DiManno, R. Scott Reid, Paul Schiff, Matthew Perry
Director of photography: Eric Steelberg
Production designer: Phil Schmidt
Music: Ryan Shore
Co-producer: Lindsay MacAdam
Editor: Jeff Wishengrad
Hudson Milbank: Matthew Perry
Sara Harrison: Lynn Collins
Dr. Cheryl Blaine: Mary Steenburgen
Tom: Kevin Pollak
Hudson Milbank's mother: Helen Shaver
Dr. Scott Townshend: Bob Gunton
Running time -- 93 minutes
No MPAA rating