'Changeland': Film Review

Courtesy of Gravitas Ventures
Self-pity and solipsism in Thailand's tourist zone.
6/7/2019

Seth Green's directing debut finds him playing a heartsick man moping through a Thailand beach vacation.

Beautiful places in foreign countries exist only to heal the souls of culturally oblivious Americans, right? So it seems in Seth Green's Changeland, in which a man flees a troubled marriage by hitting Thailand's beach resorts with an old pal. The sad sack and the mildly ugly American (played by Green and Breckin Meyer, respectively) show next to no interest in the culture of the place they've traveled to, but the place is extremely interested in them: Oddly, everyone from boat-tour guides to shot-bar patrons find time to ask our hero solicitous personal questions. If only he, or the film, had more interesting answers.

We open on Green's Brandon as he rises one morning from his marital bed and heads to the airport, maintaining a dead-eyed stoneface all the way from the U.S. to his layover in Dubai. There he's joined by globetrotting art-photographer Dan (Meyer), an old friend who finds himself very charming. Explaining why he's invited Dan on the last-minute trip, Brandon says, "I think Vanessa's cheating on me"; but he's skipped straight from suspicion to abandonment, leaving without a note or a voicemail on the morning of the couple's anniversary. (He had planned this trip as a surprise anniversary present.) It'll be a while before Dan voices the audience's puzzlement over all this, and Brandon's response does not satisfy. We're left to suspect he has misinterpreted evidence and that no affair exists — but the movie has no such twist up its sleeve.

So the bros arrive at a luxe Phuket resort, where the film snickers heartily at the way a clerk assumes they're a couple. (More allegedly funny misunderstandings like this await.) They take a boat tour whose guide Pen (Brenda Song) has out-of-nowhere messages of uplift for Brandon; meanwhile, Dan won't take a very straightforward "no" for an answer from Pen's American co-worker Dory (Clare Grant). The movie will reward his pushiness, when they cross paths again and he woos her with a groan-worthy romantic discourse on analog photography. The line "Lady, I shoot eight-by-ten" makes her knees tremble, evidently.

After the requisite time paddling past gorgeous karsts and exploring a cave or two, the pic finds its comfort zone in a cluster of douchey tourist bars, where Brandon and Dan can be at home with expat Americans (like a louche guide played by Macaulay Culkin) or, worst-case, with Thai natives who have lived Stateside. A bodybuilder plucks them out of the crowd and decides to focus on their entertainment, declaring "tonight is going to be the greatest night of our lives" — but even in its rowdy behavior, Changeland is dishwater-ish, following a much-trod path toward the catharsis it feels it is owed.

Having worked together before and presumably become friends, Green and Meyer have an ease together onscreen. But that does little to bolster the script's thinly drawn dynamic, in which Dan is supposed to push Brandon to grow. "You wanna fight for it or not?" Dan asks, more than once, about his sluggish friend's endangered marriage; and he shares opinions about Brandon's wife he'd been keeping to himself. But really, the free spirit seems to think Brandon's problems will end only if he jumps off cliffs and drinks cocktails served in small buckets. If there's a big red "NO JUMPING" sign by the cliff, so much the better. It's not as if real people live in this place, or have their reasons to ask foreigners to behave.

Production company: Karivara Films
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures
Cast: Seth Green, Breckin Meyer, Brenda Song, Clare Grant, Macaulay Culkin
Director-screenwriter: Seth Green
Producer: Corey Moosa
Executive producers: Oliver Ackermann, Sean Akers, Jonathan Gardner
Director of photography: Patrick Ruth
Production designer: Chitanun Kamhongsa
Costume designer: Waraporn Kheawnanjai
Editor: Elizabeth Yng-Wong
Composer: Patrick Stump
Casting director: Inthira Maew Limthao

Rated R, 85 minutes