Bert and Arnie's Guide to Friendship
Directed by Jeff Kaplan
This trifling indie comedy's opening credits, with an old-fashioned piano song and their white text on a black background, feel like they're meant to evoke a Woody Allen movie—it's even set in New York, though you could hardly tell. But when the movie begins, and the characters start speaking to the camera, you're put less in mind of the first-person address that opens Annie Hall than of The Office. This is sitcom-ish cinema, with mostly thin characters and groaning gags. Doesn't even the title make you think of television?
Bert is a novelist played by Matt Oberg whose every scene revolves around the fact that he's a writer, with all the stereotypical hilarity that implies: he's dimwitted, pretentious, egotistical. His wife is having an affair with Arnie, some corporate jerk played by Stephen Schneider (whose physical appearance, in relation to Oberg's Bert-like form, is of a kind with his character's Sesame Street almost-namesake), and the two tortuously form a friendship, after first pursuing parallel plot lines: Bert takes a professorship and begins peculiar relationships with a student and a trenchant book critic; Arnie starts fucking his new boss (played by the ever-graceful Anna Chlumsky).
Still, its small-screen style lends it an affable breeziness. I mean, sitcoms are likable sometimes, no? Though I rarely laughed, I could appreciate that the jokes were told well and timed and edited efficiently. Schneider was especially good as a man whose facade of detached cool starts falling apart. He's the "womanizer," and Bert is the "pussy," and by the end they've switched roles, not so much learning from each other as trading places. Which makes the moral, I think: if you're unhappy, try being the opposite of yourself.
Opens June 21