Shifting between wacky situation comedy and somber familial drama, Why Stop Now isn’t invested enough in either mode to convincingly pull off its genre-hopping ambitions. Starring Jesse Eisenberg as piano wunkderkind Eli Bloom, preparing for his big audition while trying to take care of his junkie mother and pre-teen sister, Philip Dorling and Ron Nyswaner’s film follows the young man over the course of a very busy day. By the time the sun sets, Eli will have tried unsuccessfully to check his mom into rehab, turned inadvertent drug dealer, dealt with his sister’s behavioral problems, won the girl of his dreams, attended two piano tryouts, and come to terms with his difficult, drug-addled parent. And yet, for all the activity packed into such a short period of time, the film feels more empty and underdeveloped than overstuffed.
One could fault Dorling and Nyswaner’s screenplay for the improbability of several of its key plot points, especially given the fact that, despite the fact that the film dips into some rather farcical comedy, it always maintains a veneer of prickly realism. So, we may raise an eyebrow when Eli brings his mother, Penny (Melissa Leo), to the rehab clinic and they tell her that they can’t take her in because her urine is clean and she needs to go out and cop before she can be admitted. And we may shake our heads when Eli meets Penny’s dealer, Sprinkles (Tracy Morgan), and his brother, Black (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), and learns that neither can communicate with their drug connection because they don’t speak Spanish, causing our young Spanish-speaking hero to step in and broker a coke and heroin deal. But such are the setups for the film’s comic antics, as Eli attempts to put everything right and ends up in a bunch of ludicrous situations. More bothersome than the implausibility of the precipitating events is the lack of imagination of the payoffs.
Still, the comic events at least provide a few pleasantries, mostly thanks to Morgan’s amusing mugging and Whitlock’s studied befuddlement. By the time the film reverts to dramatic mode, Dorling and Nyswaner have rather seriously misjudged our level of involvement with the characters. Sprinkles delivers life lessons over tequila shots, mother and son have a heart to heart, Eli makes a confession of his love to his gal pal. It’s all very earnest, but also a hollow echo in the film’s slightly askew, but self-contained world. That this world is neither convincing as a representation of any kind of reality or offbeat in any interesting way reflects the film’s twin failures as familial drama and as wacked-out comedy.