Giving Lip Service to Faith Explored in "The Answer Man"
- Friday, July 31, 2009
Release Date: July 24, 2009 (limited); July 31, 2009 (expands)
Rating: R (for language)
Genre: Romantic Comedy, Drama
Run Time: 95 min.
Director: John Hindman
Actors: Jeff Daniels, Lauren Graham, Lou Taylor Pucci, Olivia Thirlby, Kat Dennings, Nora Dunn, Tony Hale
Much like cranky romance novelist Melvin Udall (portrayed to perfection by Jack Nicholson) in 1997’s As Good As It Gets, Arlen Faber (Jeff Daniels) is also a writer who doesn’t know his subject very well. In fact, when it comes to people, let alone matters of faith, Arlen, the author of Me and God, couldn’t be more clueless.
Despite his lack of interaction with the real world, however, Arlen’s book has still resonated with the masses somehow—all without the help of a promotional tour, signing a single autograph or receiving Oprah’s much-coveted stamp of approval, really a marvel considering what it takes for most authors to succeed.
With countless spinoffs released later to capitalize on his book’s success including The Me and God Diet and Me and God for Teens, Arlen is a veritable publishing empire, although the catchphrases and clichés he’s coined have little actual relevance for his own life.
See, practicing what he preaches isn’t exactly Arlen’s strong point. And just in case you didn’t catch that, the movie’s opening scene sets the stage very clearly. While it’s pretty evident that Faber has been touched by the divine, which means his work, Me and God, also carries that distinction, the next scene shows him cussing up a storm when a nearby courier interrupts his quiet mediations.
Of course, the lesson here is that even the most spiritual guy has his struggles behind the scenes, a theme that runs through the course of the movie. Despite resonating with everyone on the planet with these common, everyman issues, Faber has never come face to face with his adoring public. Just like Melvin, he’s reclusive and most comfortable with life if he’s in control of it, meaning he’s got little tolerance for change, let alone any new people (or thousands) in the picture.
Taking yet another cue from As Good As It Gets, Arlen’s life is about to get turned upside down, thanks to the love and patience of a good woman. Needing the services of a chiropractor, Arlen crawls on all fours and inevitably winds up meeting someone who instantly commands his attention, despite his awkward people skills. And this isn’t any ordinary back doctor, mind you. When Arlen meets Elizabeth (Lauren Graham of Gilmore Girls fame), a single mom of a son, he definitely meets someone worth changing for.
It’s here where this quirky indie flick quickly segues into satisfying romantic comedy territory. The chemistry between Daniels and Graham, both well into their 40s, is more believable and enchanting than any couple of late. And thanks to a funny script and an easy interplay between the characters, which include Elizabeth’s spitfire receptionist Anne (Juno actress Olivia Thirlby), the story holds your attention, even if you can see the story’s ending coming from a mile away.
The story wouldn’t be a story without the requisite tension, though. Much to Arlen’s surprise, Elizabeth has no idea who he is—or more importantly, what he’s written. But she gets to the bottom of it soon enough, just like a nearby bookstore owner named Kris Lucas (Lou Taylor Pucci). Hoping to get his business back in order after a stint in rehab, Kris quickly figures out who Arlen is only because he’s ignorant enough to believe that he can get rid of several copies of his books without anyone figuring out why.
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