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PARK CITY — A family misadventure so extreme even Sundancers should blush, Predisposed offers laughs and heart but not enough to hold it all together. The cast’s marquee value should help box office prospects, but admirers of costars Melissa Leo and Jesse Eisenberg will likely compare their roles unfavorably to similar ones each actor has played in the past.
Philip Dorling and Ron Nyswaner, expanding a short they brought to Sundance in 2009, offer Eisenberg as Eli, a talented pianist squandering his college years as a grocery-store stockboy. Toying with the idea of leaving for a conservatory, he must first get his drug-abusing mother Penny (Leo) through rehab so she can care for his sister in his absence.
Problem: Penny is turned away from rehab because her urine test is clean and she doesn’t have insurance for voluntary admission. Privately, a staffer tells her the only way she’ll be admitted is to go get high and re-test.
That dilemma reportedly comes from something Nyswaner actually witnessed while volunteering in a detox unit. But even if we accept it, what follows in Predisposed snowballs beyond the realm of suspension of disbelief: On the day of his audition, Eli takes Mom out to score some coke, and when her dealers (Tracy Morgan, Isiah Whitlock, Jr.) don’t have any, all four go off together to re-up with the wholesaler, taking pitstops for childcare and the audition.
The Daytrippers model is much abused here, with the usual trapped-in-a-car bickering routine scripted and performed with no concern for how the characters might actually behave in this circumstance. Trying to sell her character’s overemotional cluelessness, Leo lays it on thick; Eisenberg is exceptionally high-strung, forcing us to ask why, if Eli knows Penny’s faults so well, he doesn’t find a way to keep her out of the action.
It’s saying something when Tracy Morgan is the sane performer in an ensemble like this. But the actor is one of the picture’s bright spots, rejecting opportunities to draw attention to himself and almost making the script’s more reflective beats work. Not that the filmmakers feel the need to do much convincing: When it’s time for Eli to man up, things just click magically into place.
Venue: Sundance Film Festival, Premieres
Production Company: BCDF Pictures
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Melissa Leo, Tracy Morgan, Emma Rayne Lyle, Sarah Ramos, Isiah Whitlock, Jr., Stephanie March, Paul Calderon
Directors-Screenwriters: Philip Dorling, Ron Nyswaner
Producers: Ron Nyswaner, Claude Dal Farra, Brice Dal Farra, Lauren Munsch, Paul Prokop, Neda Armian
Executive producers: Wendy Cox, Peter Sterling, Peter Graham, Steve Hays
Director of photography: Ben Kutchins
Production designer: Jane Musky
Music: Spencer David Hutchings
Costume designer: Susan Lyall
Editors: Colleen Sharp, Suzy Elmiger
Sales: ICM/UTA, Jessica Lacy
No rating, 87 minutes
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