Somebody Up There Likes Me: Death! Divorce! Haha!

03/27/2013 4:00 AM |

Somebody Up There Likes Me
Directed by Bob Byington

Rocky Marciano he ain’t. Though director Byington’s latest feature, far and away his best, shares its name with the 50s boxing biopic, its main character isn’t a pugilistic Paul Newman—he’s a schlub, a hilarious, hilarious schlub, more likely to roll with the punches than throw them. I haven’t laughed more at a movie in years than I did at this epic life story, spanning decades of marriage, divorce, death, infidelity, money lost and money made. Keith Poulson plays the personification of Whatever, an almost robotically disaffected young man whose life chugs along toward death: he gets dumped, resolves to marry, marries, works at a restaurant (with his best friend, a chain-smoking, John Goodmanesque Nick Offerman), has a son, comes into an inheritance, starts a business, cheats on his wife, gets cuckolded, gets divorced, remarries, etc. (The movie hops along in five-year intervals, but most of the actors don’t age.)

Byington’s last movie, Harmony and Me, was clunkily improvised, and it showed; but this film was made deliberately, exactingly, and it shows: the movie pops with impeccable timing—it was sternly, efficiently edited down to 75 minutes—and pretty, witty visuals. Byington frequently channels Frank Tashlin with Merrie Melodies-esque punch lines: wacky, surreal, silly, stupid jokes he gets away with because of the otherwise well-established drollness. (Somebody is comically morose without being self-involved; it acknowledges real problems outside of heavy hearts, though it doesn’t pay them much attention.) I giggled and guffawed like an idiot—much unlike the main character. Nothing fazes him nor pleases him; unmoved, he goes through the motions of the life we’re led to believe we should lead. But the movie has no respect for institutions like marriage or family. Rife with strife and extramarital extracurriculars, the movie suggests it doesn’t matter who the other people in our lives are—all relationships feel the same, and they all end the same. (Badly.) Somebody ends where it began, in a way that suggests that this story isn’t just one man’s—that it’s not just his life but every life, forever, that’s meaningless and unfulfilling. Well, so, you may as well treat yourself to a couple of yuks.

Opens March 29