Ever hear the one about the reclusive misanthrope who falls in love with the younger, neurotic single mother, befriends a sad, wounded young man, and in the process comes out of his spiteful shell? Writer-director John Hindman has, as evidenced by his lifting said plot outline from As Good As It Gets for The Answer Man, a dreary tale spun out of bland clichés and so many coincidences that one begins to believe its titular guru perhaps does have a direct line to the Almighty. Twenty years ago, Arlen Faber (Jeff Daniels) wrote God & Me, a series of questions and answers shared between author and deity that redefined global spirituality, led to a spin-off publication cottage industry, and made Arlen rich. In the groan-worthy central irony, despite supposedly having all the answers, Arlen is a cranky, miserable shut-in without a clue, and his life hiding from the public in his Philly brownstone is forever upended when his back goes out and he crawls, on all fours, down to the local chiropractor, Elizabeth (Lauren Graham). To impress this woman (who has divine healing hands), Arlen drops the crabbiness and assails her with all manner of greeting card-wise bon mots that she swallows rather than treating like the eye-rolling cornball nonsense that they are. Such is Answer Man, which assumes that reality need not be a pressing concern when crafting hokey melodrama, and which also comes to involve Arlen’s unlikely friendship with self-help bookstore owner Kris (Lou Taylor Pucci), who’s just out of booze rehab, facing foreclosure for his business, and dealing with an alcoholic pop. Arlen, Kris, and Elizabeth’s son Alex (Max Antisell) form a trifecta of males with daddy-abandonment issues, a thematic undercurrent as preposterously tidy as the trajectory of Arlen and Elizabeth’s budding romance. Even though he wastes both Olivia Thirlby and her doppelganger Kat Dennings in trivial peripheral roles, Hindman manages to keep his game performers from completely overdoing it. Nonetheless, with a protagonist who veers from dick to darling with haphazard inconsistency and a narrative far too contrived to register as plausible, his debut proves little more than a serving of sweet-and-sour pap.
- Magnolia Pictures
- 95 min
- John Hindman
- John Hindman
- Jeff Daniels, Lauren Graham, Lou Taylor Pucci, Max Antisell, Olivia Thirlby, Kat Dennings
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