Film Review – Awful Nice
Awful Nice, the second feature film directed by Todd Sklar, tells the story of two brothers, Jim and Dave. Jim (James Pumphrey) is a college professor/writer who has jumped through all the hoops and created a respectable life for himself. He has a wife, a child, and the beginnings of a career in academia. So what if no one read his book; at least he’s done the work. Dave (Alex Rennie) is a ne’er-do-well who drifts along from job to job, getting in trouble but somehow managing to stay afloat. He is also able to turn every bad memory into an implausible situation in which he comes out on top. Jim sees himself as a reality check to put his brother back in his place. When their father dies, Jim hunts down Dave to bring him back for the funeral. (He finds him passed out naked in a teepee.) At the memorial, the two find out their father has left them a lake house in Branson, MO. They just need to go to Branson, sign some papers with their father’s business partner, and collect their checks for the sale of the property. Turns out, things are not so simple, and what was supposed to be a simple bonding trip, turns into a much longer ordeal involving home maintenance, Russian thugs, and a really scary toilet.
So, I don’t think I am really the target audience for this movie; honestly, I do not care about the slapstick antics of two brothers trying to forge a deeper relationship. Been there, seen that. I think the idea of a reviewer being objective is a fallacy; we all come to films with our preferences, viewpoints, and histories. The best I can do is keep an open mind and hope for the best. And just because I don’t give a crap about bro road movies, doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy one when it’s good. But, it’s got to have something special to keep me involved. I wouldn’t exactly say that say that Awful Nice is a good movie, but I will say there’s some enjoyment to be had here. I laughed at parts and was interested enough to stay engaged with the film until the end. (I know that sounds like I am damning with faint praise, but it’s all I’ve got.)
What works in this movie? The relationship between the two brothers. It’s completely over the top – every discussion invariably ends in fisticuffs – but it reads true. James Pumphrey and Alex Rennie do a really good job of showing what it is like to totally love someone who drives you batshit. As the more responsible brother, Jim is both satisfied the with life he has built for himself, and a little envious of the freedom Dave has, although he is perfectly willing to believe himself the better of the two. Also Jim’s veneer of civility is simply that, he looses any adult standing he might have when he is around his brother. They constantly bait each other, turning each occasion into a sibling torture session. Dave is annoying, has no sense of boundaries, and cannot conceive of anything outside of the moment. But he’s got the charm of the completely oblivious and somehow manages to get Jim to believe in him time after time. The scenes between the two brothers are the heart of the movie, and when it is just them, everything works really well.
It’s when the film introduces other characters that problems arise. All the women in the movie are wives, girlfriends, or hookers. Realistically speaking, there are going to be women in the world who live lives that have nothing to do with Dave and Jim. Also, if I have to think about whether a particular scene is homophobic, it probably is. (If a joke is dependant on a creepy person being a flaming gay stereotype, you might want to think about that. It would have much funnier if the creeper had been a bro or a woman. Or anything.) But the worst misstep is that the two other central characters, played by Christopher Meloni and Brett Gelman, are so broad they are just caricatures. Every time those two actors appeared I was taken out of the story. Even though the relationship between the two brothers is looney tunes, it is a different, more truthful kind of crazy than the rest of the film.
Yeah, I can’t exactly recommend this film, but it’s not crap either. There’s some good stuff here, and I am definitely interested to see what the concerned parties do next. Most people who see this will probably be browsing around Netflix in six months time, looking for something to amuse them during a sleepless night. It’ll serve them well.