Not since Larry David’s Sour Grapes has a movie kicked off by so thoroughly painting its protagonists as deeply unlikable souls. Sherman’s Way begins by showing two unrelated, incompatible guys learning the hard way that people generally can’t stand them. Sherman (Michael Shulman) is parlaying his blueblood heritage into his first big internship at a major East Coast law firm, cashing checks written by his superstar senator mother, and getting dumped by his shrewish girlfriend because he won’t be impulsive (that is, do what she tells him to do). Over on the West Coast, Palmer (James LeGros) is scrounging for whatever promotional crumbs are still available to him as a former athlete and massive Olympic disappointment. Sherman travels over to Palmer’s time zone just in time to see his ex-girlfriend making out with her new, long-haired California boyfriend. He sticks out his thumb and, well, you don’t have to have seen Sideways to know where this might be going.
Palmer, who LeGros plays as a syphilitic amalgamation of an over-the-hill Bode Miller and Beetlejuice, picks up Sherman and the two are quickly laughing, bonding, and learning from each other’s utter difference. The code of wounded, isolated masculinity proves stronger than the willful force of mutual antipathy. In other words, there’s no real-life reason for a grizzled, has-been blob of machismo or his alcoholic, flatulent cat to demonstrate any patience with a neurotic, tightly wrapped little Wall Street punk-in-training. But because anal-retention-loosened-by-free-spirit is one of the only boutique cinema maxims that boutique audiences respond to reliably, we get and better damned well accept a vineyard driving lesson as the seeds of a psychologically surrogate paternity.
Whatever strident potential there may have been in LeGros and Shulman’s initially antiheroic performances, they’re no match for not one, not two, but umpteen pastoral musical interludes where the two are shown working together (with Palmer’s mechanic/chef friend) to rebuild a classic convertible that also may help Palmer rebuild his broken relationship with his estranged son. Director Craig M. Saavedra begins his movie emulating a hyperactive Todd Solandz, but winds up out-indie®-ing Tom McCarthy.