Answer Man, The (2009)
Release Date: April 2nd, 2009 (Phoenix Film Festival) MPAA Rating: R
Director: John Hindman Actors: Jeff Daniels, Lauren Graham, Lou Taylor Pucci, Olivia Thirlby, Kat Dennings
hat begins as a genuinely humorous dark comedy gradually falters as seriousness takes over. While the sarcasm and hypocrisy of many of its characters bring initial laughs, the severity of their situations and the difficulties in connecting with one another result in a more generic drama once the amusing quirks give way to sorrowful eccentricities. When the characters audiences have invested in hit rock bottom, there’s an expectation to see them rise again – but by that time, the comedy has run out and all that is left are somber realities that drain away the enchantment.
Everyone wants to meet Arlen Faber (Jeff Daniels), the world famous author of the best-selling spiritual book “Me and God.” But crotchety, disgruntled Arlen simply wants to be left alone – and so far he’s been successful in keeping his identity a secret. All of that changes when troubled bookstore owner Kris Lucas (Lou Taylor Pucci) discovers his home address and barters books for Arlen’s words of wisdom. Additionally, a back injury leads the reclusive writer to begin dating chiropractor and overprotective single mother Elizabeth (Lauren Graham). As Arlen’s relationships with his newfound friends begin to grow, he must come to terms with his past and the realization that he doesn’t hold all the answers.
Director John Hindman said he drew upon inspirations from Sturges, Wilder, and Capra films to pen his debut feature “The Answer Man” (originally titled “Arlen Faber”). While the humor has a decidedly more bitter approach, the hysterical situations that star Jeff Daniels finds himself in during the course of the 95-minute runtime briefly touch upon events that could be considered Capra-esque. Everything gets a more modern revamping, however, from the coarse language to the topics of marital discord and alcoholism, which are also notably darker than most of the tragedies that befall Preston Sturges’ characters (Wilder, however, did cover alcoholism in his dark 1945 Best Picture Oscar winner “The Lost Weekend”).
The contrasting images and actions that open the film and introduce the characters are the most humorous elements of filmmaking present in this relatively straightforward “learn to be a better person” comedy, along with an equally creative use of music (such as serene classic tunes during straining predicaments). Amongst the procrastination, cruel but witty jokes, the themes of starting over, identifying and living with oneself, and the ideas of celebrity worship and connecting with God, the little sarcastic wisdoms that surface from Faber’s cynical advice are the funniest. Daniels’ touching performance is easily the most convincing reason to watch “The Answer Man,” even if the plot is too similar to “As Good as It Gets” and the charming setup is too good to have a proportionately satisfying conclusion.
– The Massie Twins