DIRECTED BY: Bob Byington
FEATURING: Keith Poulson, Nick Offerman, Jess Weixler, Stephanie Hunt, Kate Lyn Sheil
PLOT: Thirty-five years in the life of a waiter who goes through three lovers and one friend while not visibly aging, possibly thanks to a magical suitcase.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Somebody Up There Likes Me is an experiment that dares to ask the question: just how deadpan can you make your comedy before the funny completely evaporates? It comes perilously close to finding the answer.
COMMENTS: Struggling valiantly to fashion the listless happenings that occur during the running time of Somebody Up There Likes Me into some kind of plot synopsis, the distributor’s copywriter came up with a notion that the movie involves two men named Sal and Max and “a love triangle with Lyla, the woman they both adore.” This is blatantly incorrect. The characters in Somebody simply don’t “adore”; that’s far too strong an emotion for the universe in which this movie takes place. This is a world where a woman cries out “OK!” rather than “yes!” during sex, while another confesses to “kind of liking” intercourse. This extreme understatement and emotional flatness is the movie’s joke; I suspect it may all be an arch, meta-ironic comment on fashionable hipster detachment. For long stretches, the movie won’t even attempt a real gag, skating by on its incongruously nonchalant tone: everyone is bored and inexpressive during sex, weddings, and funerals, except for Nick Offerman’s Sal, who is mildly irritated by everything, and therefore is the script’s most alive character. Although the two pals do sleep with the same woman, there is no adoration and, consequently, no love triangle (because there is no love). It’s hard not to sympathize with the poor synopsizer trying to explain what happens in the shambolic Somebody. Besides the inaccurate suggestion that the film is some sort of romantic comedy, the other potential hook the writer seizes upon is the notion that the movie contains “a magic suitcase [that] prevents Max from getting older.” This is a reasonable supposition, although there are significant problems with this description as well. Max only peers into the suitcase, whose origin or function is never explained, a couple of times. And although it’s true, and notable, that he doesn’t visibly age as the movie covers three and a half decades, what’s even odder is that some of the supporting cast age normally (a child grows to an adult), others sort of age, but don’t really look much older (Offerman develops a slight touch of grey in his beard and Jess Weixler acquires thick-rimmed glasses), while at least one other character remains as eternally youthful as Max. It’s reasonable to conclude the baggage keeps Max from visibly aging, but it’s hard to make any definitive statements about anything in this movie. The magical realist conceit enclosed in the suitcase is a surreal joke a Luis Buñuel would have taken and run with, but here, it’s sidelined and almost forgotten. Somebody‘s poker-faced twee aesthetic is strange and distinctive, but not particularly endearing. It’s like something Wes Anderson might direct while under heavy sedation.
Utilizing some of the cast from his hit TV show “Parks and Recreation” Nick Offerman co-directed a very strange (and not-safe-for-work) “virile video” for Somebody Up There Likes Me, in a style that’s nothing at all like the movie (it’s much funnier).
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…nihilistic, misanthropic, and weirdly relaxing. I’ve never seen anything like it.”–Leah Churner, Austin Chronicle (contemporaneous)