Friday, December 02, 2011

Why Everyone Hates LA: Answers to Nothing

Evidently, every narcissistic, self-deluding, sexually dysfunctional loser in Los Angeles is baffled by the emptiness of their lives. It is not much of a mystery, but Matthew Leutwyler plumbs it nonetheless in Answers to Nothing (trailer here), which opens today in New York.

Everyone is connected in Answers, but no one is happy. Frankie Graylin is a cop investigating a missing child. Her friend Kate is trying to get artificial inseminated with Ryan, her headshrinker husband who is cheating on her with Tara, the grungy singer-songwriter, who gigs at the club where Evan works, when he is not going out Ryan’s patient Allegra, an African-American who “hates black people” and owns the dog that chased the cat that killed the rat that ate the cheese that lay in the house that Jack built.

Admittedly, the hunt for the young girl is not exactly groundbreaking, but it could have been fleshed out into a serviceable episode of Law & Order: Whatever. Instead, Answers gives us a whole lot of people doing nothing much at all. Granted, Leutwyler does not obsessively force his characters to constantly cross paths, but at least such contrivances would be something to watch. Even the cop story is hamstrung by bizarre tonal shifts. One minute Graylin is giggling like a school girl when her prime suspect hits on her, while in her next scene she is hounding him like Harry Callahan. Though not particularly explicit per se, the film also has several sexual scenes that are rather off-putting in their skuzziness.

If there is one bright spot in Answers, it would have to be the highly charismatic Kali Hawk as Allegra. Unfortunately, Leutwyler totally chickens out with her sessions, promising a probing examination of racial identity, but delivering hallmark card sentiment instead. Why Dane Cook was cast as Dr. Ryan is rather inexplicable, but in all honesty, he is probably as funny in Answers as he has ever been. Yet, the real casting miscue must be Barbara Hershey appearing as his mother Marilyn, despite the fact she looks maybe ten years older than him—twelve at tops.

Don’t these x-degree-of-separation films give you a headache? This is not Short Cuts. It sort of is Crash, but that is not meant as a compliment. Instead of portraying dozens of shallow characters, indie filmmakers should just pick a handful, deepen them and then build a legitimate story around them. That did not happen here. Safely skippable, the tiresome Answers opens today (12/2) in New York at the Village 7 and at the Kew Gardens Cinemas in the County of Queens.