Jesse Eisenberg Rises, Falls and Rises Again in Asuncion

10/28/2011 4:30 PM |

Asuncion
Written by Jesse Eisenberg
Directed by Kip Fagan

"I'm this fucking American, you know?" Edgar asks his Filipina sister-in-law Asuncion. "I could be from fucking Paraguay or Azerbaijan and I would never think twice about my own opinion, you know?" As played by Jesse Eisenberg, who also wrote Asuncion (through December 18), Edgar feels a little like The Social Network's Mark Zuckerberg with journalism and international development studies lingo substituted for computer science speak. This makes for much witty, funny, Woody Allen-for-millenials banter, but not a whole lot more.

In this campus comedy, post-grad shut-in Edgar squats in his former TA and idol Vinny's (Justin Bartha) evocatively filthy attic apartment. (Set designer John McDermott turns in A-grade work.) With neither money for the rent nor a bed—he sleeps on a beanbag—neurotic Edgar happily acts as a servant to zen Vinny, a Black Studies PhD student. The household's fragile equilibrium topples when Edgar's Wall Street stockbroker older brother (Remy Auberjonois) treks upstate to leave his new wife in the pair's custody. While Vinny half-jokingly threatens to seduce Asuncion (Camille Mana), Edgar projects onto her the story of child slavery and international prostitution that will lift him from apathy and revive his journalistic non-career. This dynamic, a sort of celibate love triangle, sustains the first act before imploding in the second.

After intermission Edgar's condescension—foreshadowed plainly enough in the quotation above—has reached Zuckerbergian proportions, and he and Vinny have traded demeanors. Edgar beams, buoyed by the narrative of geopolitical exploitation he's dreamed up for Asuncion, while Vinny takes offense at his roommate's barely veiled Orientalism. Asuncion plays the polite house guest until, during an acid trip that quickly turns from hilarious to brutal, everything is dragged out in the open. Eisenberg attempts, not completely convincingly, to redeem or at least elicit sympathy for his reprehensible protagonist. Bartha, meanwhile, is hilarious—much funnier than on film—as the joint-smoking, drum-banging, Civil Rights leaders-quoting Vinny. Most disappointing is the Asuncion character, who, through no fault of the very strong Mana and despite being the title character, serves chiefly as catalyst for Edgar and Vinny's shifting relationship. Asuncion conforms to that genre in which Eisenberg and Bartha specialize on screen, the bromance, and despite the momentary intrusion of someone much more worldly into their toxic environment, Vinny and Edgar are more than happy to regain control of their moldy man cave. And Eisenberg is all too glad to grant them their wish.

(Photo: Sandra Coudert)