The shadow of Christopher Guest looms large over Authors Anonymous, a breezy but inanely constructed comedy that follows, with alternating sympathy and aspersion, a group of struggling novelists as they seek largely undeserved fame and fortune. It’s an ideal subject for a Guest-style mockumentary, if also a bit obvious, considering Guest’s own propensity for parodying subcultures with delusions of artistic grandeur. Unfortunately, this close resemblance only highlights the limitations of director Ellie Kanner and writer David Congalton as cultivators of nuance: The film is plenty vicious, but not only is its humor largely flat, its attempts to offset derision with sympathy feel completely disingenuous. Guest’s films, at their funniest and most effective, achieve a dizzying simultaneity of feeling, conveying humanist recognition alongside broad caricature. Authors Anonymous takes the easiest approach to every scene, haphazardly juggling different tones without integrating them into a cohesive and consistent thematic identity.
Authors Anonymous trades in mostly broad characterizations, from the high-strung L.A. housewife to the crochety old man who’s out of touch with technology. The crux of the film’s drama centers on Hannah (Kaley Cuoco), a dumb-as-rocks blond bombshell who finds inexplicable success with her first novel despite her general idiocy; in an awkwardly overplayed recurring gag, Hannah struggles to name a single author (or define the word “metaphor”). The other characters spend the majority of their screen time reacting to Hannah’s success in varying ways; the more abrasive ones grow violent and tic-filled, while others merely mope dejectedly. Because no one acts surprisingly here, or makes a single unexpected or intriguing decision, the film’s narrative arc is easily telegraphed to the point of being hollow: the dumb get dumber, the angry get angrier, and the audience becomes increasingly bored.
Multiple characters are introduced, seemingly as comic relief or agents of plot development, only to disappear completely when they fail to add anything to the proceedings; jokes are awkwardly repeated in different contexts, or extended into entire scenes when a simple bashful look at the camera would sell the humor more effectively. As a skewering of archetypes, Authors Anonymous shows witty potential (everyone knows a slacker dude who loves Bukowski enough to base an entire phony career around him, or a jock who’s so flabbergasted to discover his own creative ability that it prompts a molasses-paced identity crisis), but it never develops these characters beyond the punchline of their own existence, poking fun at the what without inquiring about the how and why. The members of this “AA” group might be dumb, but like everyone else, they’re many other things as well. Unfortunately, Authors Anonymous is interested only in idiocy, and not the complicated mess of emotion lurking beneath it.