If Los Angeles is viewed, rightly or wrongly, as the American capital of self-absorption, than Adam Sherman’s Crazy Eyes isn’t about to alter perceptions. “You’re a rich asshole with no feelings,” Rebecca (Madeline Zima) castigates lover Zack (Lukas Haas) late in the movie. Add to that non-functional alcoholic and she’s pretty much got it right. The film’s challenge, then, is to show that, while there can be little doubt about Zack’s wealth or general shittiness as a person (or penchant for the bottle), the last part of Rebecca’s denunciation is false, or at least a tad unfair.
To that end, Haas’s mopey boozehead delivers existential voiceovers that give word to his depression above blurry, impressionistic shots of nocturnal L.A. But Zack’s pseudo-philosophical musings, like the trying-too-hard aesthetic frippery that Sherman dials up, feel like a put-on. Besides, in the film’s terms, Zack’s real problem isn’t that he’s depressed or an alcoholic, but that, despite having women lining up to sleep with him, he can’t get the girl of his obsessions, Rebecca, who he dubs “Crazy Eyes,” to let him fuck her. This despite the fact that she spends nearly every night boozing with him, winding up in his bed in her underwear, and drunkenly denying his near-rape-like advances.
While the male characters are certainly not presented as models of enlightened behavior (in addition to the useless richie Zack, we meet his shit-kicking, coke-dealing bartender best friend, Dan, whose dialogue is all about “fucking bitches”), their antics and crises are indulged in a manner not extended to their female counterparts. Despite a measure of sympathy for Rebecca, the film still views her as a misguided tease—a better fate than awaits the other female characters who are reduced to gold-digging sluts or obsessive psychos. When Zack and Dan run down the women in their life, we can’t be intended to view their brazen displays of machismo with approval, but the film’s portrayal of its female characters only serve to give unnecessary credence to their words.
But alone among the film’s characters, Zack is special because, after all, the film must focus somewhere. While Sherman doesn’t go full on redemption-of-the-cad (though thanks to Zack’s preteen son, there’s a suggestion of moving his life in a new direction), it’s not clear that the indulgence in endless scenes of drunken debauchery and self-destructive behavior is a more interesting alternative. Sherman refuses to sentimentalize his lead character, but he makes the mistake of assuming that a few voiceover musings are enough to make him worthy of, if not our sympathy, at least our interest. In the end, the filmmaker has created one more portrait of an unhappy, self-obsessed, alcohol-addled, ultra-rich Angeleno, but without the eye for composition or feel for father-child dynamics that made such similarly conceived nonsense like Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere bearable, it feels as empty an exercise as its lead character’s adventures in barely-there existence.