Dir. Michael Showalter.US. 2005. 91mins.
The debut feature fromMichael Showalter, The Baxter harbours noble ambitions - but therein liemost of its problems, with what appears to be an attempt at mixing classicHollywood screwball comedy with elements of Billy Wilder's The Apartment(Jack Lemmon's character was named CC Baxter).
In the US, distributor IFCFilms would do well not to hold its breath for a breakout late-summer hit,while receipts overseas are likely to be similarly soft. Ancillary markets arelikely to glean higher returns; non-theatrical monies could increasesubstantially if co-star Michelle Williams finally becomes the breakout starshe deserves when Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain is released in December.
The film revolves around thetwo weeks preceding the wedding between Showalter's Elliot Sherman, adull-as-dishwater accountant and Caroline (Elizabeth Banks), a stunning anduptight magazine editor. Told in a narrative-heavy, flashback style, the storyis from the point of view of the guy who gets jilted. Picture a film about BillPullman's character in Sleepless In Seattle or the man Katherine Rossleaves at the altar in The Graduate.
It is actually aninteresting idea, which makes The Baxter's failures all the moredistressing. There's never a moment in the film when the audience isn'tcompletely sure of where the plot is going and what the ending will be.
To be fair, there are a fewgenuinely funny moments in the film, most notably Peter Dinklage (TheStation Agent) as Elliot and Caroline's hilariously Brooklyn-phobic weddingplanner, Benson Hedges. Michael Ian Black is unsubtly wacky as Elliot's bestfriend who sometimes walks around his apartment in a frilly, women's tank top.
As Elliot, Showalter is toomuch of a Baxter, an uber-nerd of a level that is rarely, if ever, seen in reallife: he more resembles the borderline agoraphobic, semi-autistic types thatone sees carrying an umbrella on a cloudless day because 'one neverknows.' You never really believe that Elliot has a shot at ending up withthe girl because his positive character traits seem to stop pretty much atsimply being nice.
Justin Theroux (MulhollandDrive, Six Feet Under) is perfectly smug as the dashing and richex-boyfriend who returns to try and steal Caroline from Elliot and ElizabethBanks (Seabiscuit) is game as the frosty WASP who is'settling' for Elliot (although this, too is thoroughlyunbelievable).
In a cameo as Cecil'sboyfriend, Paul Rudd's considerable talents are wasted in a tedious bar sceneinvolving painful famous film line readings and some sort of bizarre handjive-esque drinking game.
But the highlight isWilliams (Me Without You, The Station Agent) as Cecil, the shytemp who secretly (to him) has a crush on Elliot. The film comes alive whenevershe's on screen and her turn as the sexy/shy aspiring singer is another in along line of indie performances that one hopes will eventually bring her therecognition she deserves.
As a film-maker, Showalterclearly benefits from Tim Orr's (George Washington, Raising VictorVargas) talented phototography, which lend the film a look and feel thathide the director's relative inexperience.
Prod cos: IFC Films, Plum Pics
US dist: IFC Films
Int'l sales: Renaissance Films
Exec prods: Jonathan Sehring,Caroline Kaplan, Holly Becker
Prods: Daniela Taplin Lundberg,Galt Niederhoffer, Celine Rattray, Reagan Silber
Scr: Michael Showalter
Cine: Tim Orr
Ed: Jacob Craycroft, Sarah Flack
Prod des: Mark White
Main cast: Michael Showalter,Elizabeth Banks, Michelle Williams, Justin Theroux, Zak Orth, Michael IanBlack, Catherine Lloyd Burns, Piter Dinklage and Paul Rudd