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Even a highly seasoned director would be at a loss to navigate the wild tonal shifts of David Flebotte’s screenplay for Just Before I Go, so it’s not surprising that debuting helmer Courteney Cox isn’t able to make them palatable. While the sitcom veteran displays an easy facility with actors in this tale of a depressed man returning to his hometown to clear a few things from his bucket list before he kills himself, the film receiving its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival is a serious misfire.
The central character, Ted Morgan (Seann William Scott), is appropriately first seen underwater, in a visual representation of the fact that he’s gotten in way in over his head. After being left by his wife (Elisha Cuthbert), Ted decides to settle a few scores before he does himself in and temporarily moves in with his police officer brother. Lucky (Garret Dillahunt). and his family.
Among those upon whom he seeks to exact revenge is his abusive elementary-school teacher, now on her last legs in a nursing home. While giving the dementia-addled woman an expletive-filled haranguing, he meets her beautiful granddaughter, Greta (Olivia Thirlby), who decides to tag along and document his travails on video.
His next target is the school bully who viciously harassed him while they were children. But when he encounters the hulking Rowley (Rob Riggle), the former tormentor turns out to be a sensitive widowed dad with a Down’s syndrome child who expresses remorse for his former habits and offers his hand in friendship. Ted is similarly surprised to discover that Vickie (Mackenzie Marsh), the one girl in school who was nice to him, is now the obese mother of five children. But he quickly takes her up on her offer of sex nonetheless, which prompts a dramatic visit from her anguished husband (Cox’s ex, David Arquette).
Things are even stranger when it comes to his family. Lucky’s wife, Kathleen (Kate Walsh), turns out to be a “sleep masturbator” who periodically shows up in Ted’s room in the middle of the night and pleasures herself. When Ted wakes up to a drawing of penises in a bowl, he finds out that the artist, his nephew, Zeke (Kyle Gallner), is secretly gay and is involved with a schoolmate, Romeo (Evan Ross). He also discovers that his mother (screen veteran Connie Stevens) is living with a female Elvis impersonator (Diane Ladd).
Cox clearly relishes the script’s wildly ribald humor, from Lucky instructing his adolescent son to use a particularly nasty epithet when referring to Ted’s ex to the appearance of a policewoman (Missi Pyle) whose crotch sports a suspicious bulge. But the film falters when it ham-fistedly attempts to detour into sensitive drama — cued by the soundtrack’s emo-style songs by Snow Patrol (Cox is currently dating the band’s lead singer, Johnny McDaid) — as Ted discovers that nearly everyone with whom he comes into contact has serious troubles of their own.
Williams is appealing in the central role, even if he’s less effective in conveying his character’s angst than simply delivering deadpan reactions to the chaos surrounding him. And Cox has elicited mostly fine work from the large supporting cast, especially an amusing Dillahunt as the not-so-lucky Lucky. But she’s ultimately unable to turn Just Before I Go into a modern-day Harold and Maude. Instead, all the relentless vulgarity on display makes it seem more like a particularly dark episode of her current sitcom, Cougar Town.
Production: Coquette, New Artists Alliance
Cast: Seann William Scott, Olivia Thirlby, Garret Dillahunt, Kate Walsh, Kyle Gallner, Evan Ross, Rob Riggle, Mackenzie Marsh, Missi Pyle, Connie Stevens, David Arquette, Elisha Cuthbert
Director: Courteney Cox
Screenwriter: Dave Flebotte
Producers: Courteney Cox, Gabriel Cowan, Thea Mann
Executive producers: John C. Rhee, Alexandria Jackson, David Arquette, John Suits
Director of photography: Mark Schwartzbard
Production designer: Shannon Kemp
Costume designer: Chris Kristoff
Editor: Roger Bondelli
Music: Erran Baron Cohen
No rating, 90 minutes