I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With
2007Director: Jeff Garlin
Cast: Jeff Garlin, Bonnie Hunt, Sarah Silverman
n support of his debut feature film, Jeff Garlin gave a rather verbose interview a couple weeks ago on Elvis Mitchell's "The Treatment," broadcast on KCRW, an installment in which Mitchell speaks far less than in any of the dozen or so I've heard. Over the course of what essentially becomes a half-hour monologue, the garrulous guest cites various directorial influences (Frank Capra, Billy Wilder, Preston Sturges, Ernst Lubitsch), complains that many contemporary comedies are bloated with inessential elements to please various demographic segments of the audience, then said comedies are too long, the actors and actresses are too cool and good-looking—he specifically contrasts Katherine Heigl from Knocked Up (though he's bullish on Judd Apatow in general) with Jean Arthur in, say, Wilder's A Foreign Affair or Capra's You Can't Take It With You, as a very nice-looking actress who's also able to play a believable misfit.
The film, then—a modest comedy conspicuously set in Chicago and populated by interesting, everyday characters—is probably a success by his standards. Garlin plays James Aaron, a less-than-famous 38-year-old comedian/actor whose main characteristics seem to be a taste for rice pudding, a nonexistent love life, and a weight problem. Amidst canceled auditions and other professional disappointments, he conducts a short and baffling affair with an apparently sweet but ultimately diabolical young woman played by Sarah Silverman. During an outing in the park early in their acquaintance, she and James agree on the movie's titular request as they gaze at a pair of young lovers enjoying a small picnic on the lawn.
He also pals around with his best friend, Luca (David Pasquesi), a bit of an oddball who runs a retirement home and winds up introducing James to a sympathetic teacher, played by Bonnie Hunt, on career day in his second-grade daughter's classroom. When James runs into her again at a record store, where it turns out they're both searching for the same mildly obscure jazz album, and when James later picks up Luca's daughter after school, we observe a much more subtle but perhaps eventually fulfilling relationship taking root.
An apt point of comparison is Year of the Dog, by another first-time director, Mike White, but that film attempts some outsized character development that I felt unbalanced the picture overall. Though it plays like a small, slightly dark comedy, Molly Shannon's character goes through wrenching personal transformation, overwhelming the comic elements of the movie. Garlin's James Aaron, on the other hand, takes much smaller steps here. Probably due to his career as a comedian, stand-up and otherwise, he respects the humor in his film enough to allow it to take center stage. Sure, he's fat, and that's dealt with in a number of scenes, but always deftly and without ruining the mood. Personal development is restricted to some minor issues (finally moving out of his mom's apartment, pulling his parked Mercury Grand Marquis out of its prized spot next to Wrigley Field to find a more useful space). The acting is low-key (Garlin mentions Bill Murray in Rushmore as representative of a certain blank, deadpan style he admires), and the cast endearing, including, in addition to those already mentioned, Dan Castellaneta as a friendly clerk in James' local grocery store.
As already evident in the press, this sort of filmmaking leaves itself wide open to labels like "insufficient," "disappointing," or "rip-off." And if this turns out, for one reason or another, to be Jeff Garlin's one and only film, those could be accurate. But given that he's already shopping around a second script, and sounds enthusiastic about a long directing career, we'll probably get the chance to see him continue to mine these types of characters for a broad variety of stories. It's only fair to give the guy at least a decade or so before attempting to judge whether he has what we might take to be an artistic vision, or whether his films turn out to reinforce one another, whether their collective whole is indeed greater than the parts themselves, particularly given a first attempt at light and likeable as this.
I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With is currently in limited release.
By: Andy Slabaugh
Published on: 2007-09-19