'Mr. Roosevelt': Film Review | Provincetown 2017

Courtesy of Beachside Films
A promising debut about a botched homecoming.

Noël Wells makes her writing-directing debut as a comedian returning to Austin after a two-year absence.

Noël Wells, who starred alongside Aziz Ansari in Master of None's first season, creates her own vehicle in Mr. Roosevelt, writing and directing a comedy set in her old hometown of Austin, Texas. Playing up her neurotic side, the you-can't-go-home-again picture finds Wells' Emily struggling not to feel rejected by those she in fact abandoned first. Modest but funny, it makes a fine calling card for a performer deserving of bigger things; now warming up on the fest circuit, it would play well in limited release before a happy afterlife on video.

Wells' Emily has been struggling in Los Angeles' improv scene for two years when she gets a call from her ex-boyfriend Eric (Nick Thune): The cat she left in his care is very sick, and she needs to get back to Austin before he dies.

Emily shows up just in time to hear a vet give the bad news to Eric and his new girlfriend Celeste (Britt Lower); and if anything can make the news of a pet's death worse, surely it's hearing your grief outstripped by that of the woman who now lives with your ex.

Celeste, the kind of too-together figure — "like a Pinterest board come to life" — most frequently found in rom-coms that need to generate some jealous misery, has not only remade Eric (for better and worse) but come to think of the cat as her own. Back at the little house Emily used to call home, Celeste plans to have a tasteful brunch memorial, attended by even more people who claim kinship to the pet.

Losing her composure while out having dinner with the couple, Emily physically crashes into waitress Jen (Daniella Pineda), who met her once at a party and decides to rescue her. An unflappable free spirit who would have been at home in Austin in its small-stakes heyday, Jen drags Emily away from her thwarted grief the next day, introducing her to other slackers and reminding her of the creative side she wants to share with the world.

Further developments tease at the prospect of a reconciliation with Eric or at other possible relationships. But the film is hung up on Emily's indignation and self-pity, building toward a forced-feeling climactic outburst. Sad slapstick provides one kind of catharsis in this sequence, but the picture plays better in its cool-down, as Wells opens up to perspectives that are not Emily's.

In the real world, today's Austin belongs to Celeste and her moneymaking kin; their remaking of the city makes her influence on Eric look no more dramatic than a bad haircut. Mr. Roosevelt imagines that punk rock waitresses can still afford to live near downtown, that we can all coexist; that, should an émigré be bruised by failure in a less forgiving city, Austin will be standing by to provide nourishment. Accurate or not, that's a vision that carries the film's closing scenes to a satisfying end.

Production company: Beachside Films
Cast: Noël Wells, Nick Thune, Britt Lower, Daniella Pineda, Andre Hyland, Doug Benson, Armen Weitzman, Sergio Cilli
Director-screenwriter-executive producer: Noël Wells
Producers: Chris Ohlson, Michael B. Clark, Alex Turtletaub
Director of photography: Dagmar Weaver-Madsen
Production designer: Jake Kuykendall
Costume designer: Caroline Karlen
Editor: Terel Gibson
Composer: Ryan Miller
Casting directors: Vicky Boone, Barbara McCarthy
Venue: Provincetown Film Festival

90 minutes