Director: Chris Kelly
1h 37min | Drama | 3 June 2016 (UK)
Writer/director Chris Kelly’s so-so comedy drama follows the personal crises of one 30-something David (Played by Jesse Plemons, who made a big impact as the eerily childlike gangster in Breaking Bad and continues to impress) who is a struggling NYC-based comedy writer fresh from breaking up with his boyfriend. He’s called back to his depressingly boring neighbourhood in Sacramento to help care for his mother Joanne, who is suffering from a rare form of cancer that just can’t be beaten by chemo, and it thus soon dawns on David that he is going to be staying longer in Sacramento, stuck in the too-small house with his two sisters and father, than he thought. In fact he is going to be overseeing his mother’s actual decline into death, a slow-burning ride of trauma that starts to open up old family wounds, particularly the fact his religious father, though affectionate on the surface, has never really accepted his homosexuality, referring to it as something they can always “debate” at the right time.
The stance way David and his father negotiate his sexuality is one of the film’s more compelling and refreshing elements. David’s coming out - which happened about ten years before the film’s story begins - did not result in him being thrown out or disowned, and the present-day events don’t strongly feature the kind of screaming matches one might expect - but his father and he clearly have worked out areas of David’s life that are ‘do not discuss’ zones; an uneasy and unsustainable truce that has allowed for a false domestic harmony of sorts to continue. That being said, the narrative morepredictably makes the issue of Joanne’s cancer a too-neat chance for family redemption (making it a “cancer dramady”, arguably a sub-genre all on its own) on this and other issues, which unintentionally makes David come off more like a monumentally self-indulgent, middle class ass rather than a sympathetic character.
There are also many other, very over-familiar elements typical of indie fare in the mix here; you’ve got quirky suburban characters like David’s death-obsessed grandparents, an airy soundtrack, and queer characters who get major roles but who seem used for cliched and campy gags, so you end up with a film that occasionally hits the right note of awkward comedy and pathos - Molly Shannon does a sterling job - but mostly just feels SO Sundance-y.