The meaning of Multiple Sarcasms’s title is a mystery, but then, so are many things in Brooks Branch’s film about a successful architect and family man who, in 1979 New York, blows up his seemingly happy life because of some amorphous discontent. From why Gabriel’s (Timothy Hutton) story is set 30 years ago, to why he thinks happiness will come from destroying his current circumstances and writing about it in an autobiographical play, to why no one realizes that Gabriel and his platonic best friend Cari (Mira Sorvino) are in love with each other, this misshapen indie poses numerous questions it’s unwilling or unable to resolve.
If there are answers lurking about, they’re lost amid a sea of rambling, incongruously edited and lousily shot scenes, which often don’t flow together (thereby leaving incidents and developments to hang or simply drop out of sight) and are constructed with a plethora of empty, unattractive zooms and pans. As Gabriel types in his bathroom, bickers with his perfectly reasonable wife (Dana Delany), embarrasses his daughter (India Ennenga), drinks with his gay co-worker (Mario Van Peebles), and ditches work to go to Cinema Village to see Starting Over (symbolism alert!), director Branch experiments with different styles—a music montage here, transitional fades to blooming whites there, a sequence of still photos and painterly text thrown in for good measure—to equally poor results.
Though at the center of virtually every scene, Gabriel never comes into clear focus, less because the action reflects his own indecisiveness than because the filmmaker has only fuzzily conceived his protagonist, whose midlife crisis feels like a dramatic conceit rather than something actually, urgently felt. Consequently, Hutton’s performance is as messy as his unshaven, droopy-bangs appearance, incapable of locating a sense of longing, of searching for something, that might make his decision to end his marriage seem like a natural extension of his inner turmoil. The rest of the cast is similarly left to emote their way out of muddled characterizations and scenarios, but their efforts—like the film’s attempts to both generate era-specificity via movie references, and to wrap up its knotty scenario with a preposterous happily-ever-after finale—are to no avail; the proceedings’ form-and-content confusion ultimately overwhelms everything.