'Slow Learners': Tribeca Review

'Slow Learners'

High school guidance counselor Jeff (Adam Pally) and platonic co-worker Anne (Sarah Burns) reach a loneliness breaking point and make a pact to forgo their bland personas for unexplored and exciting alter egos. 

The two leads' effective performances are not enough to bring this sluggish comedy to life.

Adam Pally and Sarah Burns play best friends who decide to transform their personalities in Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce's romantic comedy.

In the new romantic comedy directed by real-life couple Don Argott and Sheena M. Joyce, two platonic friends and co-workers decide to shed their staid personas in an attempt to juice up their moribund sex lives. Wanna guess if they'll end up together by the end credits?

Not exactly brimming with surprises, Slow Learners clearly worships at the altar of Judd Apatow in its depiction of high-school teachers Jeff (Adam Pally) and Anne's (Sarah Burns) misadventures in the dating world. Although the two leads are solid comic performers and there are a few mild laughs along the way, there's little you haven't seen before in this film, which is receiving its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.

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The amusing early moments provide vivid illustrations of the central characters' dismal romantic lives. Jeff is on a blind date that goes horrifically wrong, with the clearly disgusted woman telling him, "You look like a lesbian newscaster," before adding, "It's almost insulting to women, the way you're effeminate." He promptly proceeds to choke on some food, requiring the Heimlich maneuver from a nearby waiter. Meanwhile, Anne is at her doctor's office being checked for STDs, even though she admits that she hasn't had sex for over a year and that she's "not in an anal place." Her doctor's diagnosis is that she's "clinically abstinent."

So the friends decide to spend the summer channeling their inner wilder sides, which, in his case, means wearing a bandana and, in hers, means wildly dancing on top of a bar. They also adjust their wardrobes, prompting Jeff to complain about his new duds: "You have no idea the amount of ball and taint sweat that I have right now."

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That's a prime example of screenwriter Matt Serword's attempts at vulgar humor. Other plot elements involve Jeff's all-male book club (one of the members is played by Saturday Night Live's Bobby Moynihan) and Anne's fruitless crush on Jeff's lothario neighbor (Reid Scott of Veep). Cliches abound as both characters shed their inhibitions, as evidenced by the scene in which a sexy woman enthusiastically gives Jeff her phone number after he punches out a rowdy guy at a bar.

Despite the plot contrivances, the two leads manage to make their dorky characters endearing, thanks to their deadpan performances. And some humor is provided by the supporting cast, which includes such solid comic pros as Kate Flannery (The Office) and Kevin Dunn. But since we never actually care about whether or not the main characters finally will recognize their mutual attraction, Slow Learners is mostly slow going.

Production: 9.14 Pictures
Cast: Adam Pally, Sarah Burns, Reid Scott, Catherine Reitman, Mary Grill, Kevin Dunn
Directors: Don Argott, Sheena M. Joyce
Screenwriter: Matt Serword
Producers: Tommy Joyner, Jamie Lokoff, Brian O'Connor, Tammy Tiehel-Stedman
Director of photography: Chase Bowman
Production designer: Michael Crenshaw
Editor: Demian Fenton
Costume designer: Rita Squitiere
Composer: The Wellspring
Casting director: Allison Jones

Not rated, 96 min.