A family secret sets a depressed man on a quest in a romantic comedy starring Thomas Middleditch, Jess Weixler and Diana Bang.
“I guess I thought it was, like, whimsical,” Thomas Middleditch’s character in Entanglement offers as a defense at one point. Director Jason James and screenwriter Jason Filiatrault apparently share that assumption; the movie opens with a sequence that aims to spin gentle laughs from an attempted suicide. From there, the narrative rides the twin tracks of poignancy and humor, with a quantum-physics detour, to diminishing returns. James’ assured timing and visual knack almost mask how strained and half-baked the story is.
But the helmer draws sharp, engaging performances from his cast. Silicon Valley‘s Middleditch wisely underplays the role of sad sack and would-be suicide Ben Layten, who has been despondent since his wife left him. When you strip away the actor’s charm, Ben is an insufferable man-child. For one thing, he still sees his child psychologist (Johannah Newmarch). The film provides not the slightest inkling of his professional interests or general purpose in life. His possession of carefully curated vinyl albums, an unconvincing nod toward soulful hipsterism, is meant to suffice.
Somehow, all the blank spaces in Ben’s personality make him the romantic ideal for a couple of smart women who cross his path. His neighbor Tabby (Diana Bang) might be proprietor of an artsy boutique, but she has time to do some motherly tidying up of Ben’s apartment, entering without his knowledge or permission. To Tabby’s dismay, a mystery woman enters Ben’s life and claims enter stage, schooling him in more daring forms of breaking and entering.
Their paths cross about the time that Ben finds new focus for his Rx-muted days, after his hospitalized father (Eric Keenleyside) takes an absurd stab at a deathbed confession: He reveals that decades earlier a baby girl almost became Ben’s adopted sister. Convinced that the phantom sibling is the key to haunting woulda-coulda-shoulda questions, Ben sets out to find her.
The person he finds is Hanna, a free-spirited shoplifter played with welcome zing by Jess Weixler. Call her a manic pixie dream girl or just a male fantasy, she’s that and a bit more: droll, defiant and the perfect rule-breaking antidote to the milquetoast Ben’s jittery caution. That she pursues him with such intensity is at least as unbelievable as Tabby’s unrequited attraction. But in this story of an emotionally underdeveloped male, Ben’s brusque mother (Marilyn Norry, very good) turns out to be the only female who doesn’t cater to his needs.
Filiatrault’s screenplay weaves the idea of quantum entanglement into Ben’s story, with Hanna insisting that they’re not merely long-lost adoptive siblings but bound particles, forever connected. It’s an intriguing premise, but one that’s explored in only the most superficial ways. Plot mechanics final undo any possibility of larger meaning, and the story devolves into pat, unsatisfying notions about mental illness and romantic love.
Director James does, however, embellish the mild fantasy with winningly surreal touches — from cartoon woodland critters to images of cosmic orbits — conveying the precariousness of Ben’s mental state and also the inspiration he feels around Hanna. Even the quotidian elements of the suburban locations (filmed in British Columbia) have a fluency and sheen thanks to fine work by cinematographer James Liston.
But however seamless the visuals, and despite Middleditch’s low-key likability, there’s no getting around the preciousness that the film attaches to Ben’s immaturity and self-absorption. The story’s big twist looms into view well before its intended jolt of surprise. By that point, the filaments of this rom-com alternate reality have unraveled. What’s left is as empty as it is uncluttered — certainly good news for Bang’s character, who likes things neat and clean.
Distributor: Dark Star Pictures
Production companies: Resonance Films, Goodbye Productions in association with Thunderbird Films
Cast: Thomas Middleditch, Jess Weixler, Diana Bang, Randal Edwards, Marilyn Norry, Eric Keenleyside, Johannah Newmarch, Jena Skodje, Shauna Johannesen, Nicole LaPlaca, Mackenzie Gray
Director: Jason James
Screenwriter: Jason Filiatrault
Producers: Amber Ripley, Jason James
Executive producers: Jhod Cardinal, Tim Gamble, Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith
Director of photography: James Liston
Production designer: Scott Moulton
Costume designer: Sekyiwa Wi-Agedzi
Editors: Gareth Scales, Christopher Watson, Jamie Alain
Composer: Andrew Harris
Casting directors: Barbara McCarthy, Kara Eide, Kris Woznesensky