Friday, 27 March 2015

Movie Review: Manny Lewis (2015)

In a weird companion piece to my review of Top Five, I find myself looking at another film starring and written by a stand-up comedian, only this time we’re stepping into my home turf with my favourite stand-up of all time: Carl Barron. The man’s laconic and laidback style to observational humour perfectly encapsulates the Australian sense of humour that would notice an erupting volcano and just go “Bit fuckin’ hot out here.” It is said that the best comedians can make reading the phone book funny, and while Carl hasn’t quite gotten to that point yet, he did at one point make me laugh simply by counting how many people in the audience were laughing. That’s the kind of delivery the man has got. So, when I heard that he was going to be in a feature film, I pretty much just tore up the preconceptions I walked into Top Five with and got ultra-hyped for this thing, ignoring the usual fare of comedians’ first time in films and the fact that it was co-produced by Channel Seven, whom also did the pretty damn awful The Water Diviner. Let’s take a look: This is Manny Lewis.

The plot: Manny Lewis (Carl Barron) is a famous stand-up comedian performing to sell-out crowds and on the cusp of making to the international stage, but behind closed doors he finds himself lonesome and unable to connect with people. As he wrestles with his childhood memories and his shyness around women, he happens across Maria (Leeanna Walsman) in a coffee shop and the two start to hit it off. Could Manny have finally found someone?

The core idea behind calling a film a ‘guilty pleasure’ boils down to it failing as one thing, be it dramatic, scary or otherwise, but succeeding as another thing, usually hilarious because of how it fails to be serious. It is rare that I find this principle being applied to a film that isn’t necessarily a bad film, but at least one that has been pretty badly marketed. Everywhere I turn, I see this film being called a ‘feel-good comedy’, and every time I see that as a descriptor for this movie, I keep looking for the writer in question’s name to be Marquis de Sade because that is pretty much the only way that this could be construed as feel-good. One of the oldest rules of comedy is that there is a nugget of truth behind every joke; Barron and co-writer/director Anthony Mir take that idea and dive head-first into it, coming out the other side with less of anything feel good but more sobering and, ultimately, more than a little depressing. What makes this even stranger is that, despite how this may sound, it actually works in that regard.

The main story of this, essentially, is that of a rom-com, sprinkled in with bits of stand-up narration by Manny. At first, these routines are of Barron’s usual standard and are quite funny, but as the film continues and bits of his relationship with his father, played by a very on-point Roy Billing, bubble to the surface, there’s a certain dark undercurrent to the material. Like a lot of other comedians out there, Manny uses comedy as a means of coping with his mental baggage, often acting like he’s still doing his comedy even when he’s off-stage and on his own with himself as the audience, as if he needs someone, anyone, to laugh with him. This, combined with his frustration over his love life and jealousy over those who have been more successful in that field than him, such as his friend and manager Jimmy, makes him look like the Pagliacci joke was written with him specifically in mind. This all comes to a head when, under the guise of him practicing his act with some ‘jokes’ about his father, he finally lashes out in what may be a pretty basic bit of symbolism but is still a really effective scene and the definite highpoint of the film. This film may not entirely succeed at making you all warm inside, but it definitely succeeds at making for good drama and insight into the mind of a comedian… or, at least, it would.

Like I said before, this is pretty much a rom-com by design and it is here that we get to the gaping maw of a problem this film has: The story, the main focus of the film, is painfully pedestrian and lacking in anything resembling tension. While Barron and Walsman have good chemistry together on screen, their relationship is developed without any major deviations from formula: Meet-cute, first date, she gets him to be more out-going, he thinks he truly loves him, misunderstanding that causes a break-up at around the start of the third act, he has to stop her from going overseas and out of his reach forever, kiss, roll credits. The only thing that differs from the standard machinations of the rom-com is the sub-plot about Manny’s initial relationship with a phone sex operator, which could have strengthened the character arc had it not been for the fact that it is essentially little more than a ticking clock to when the misunderstanding happens. If the identity of the operator wasn’t revealed right at the very start, and the sub-plot itself was given an actual resolution, then it could have worked. Oh yeah, that’s the other big thing: Nothing gets resolved by film’s end. We get bare-bones plot resolution concerning Manny and his father as well as him and Maria, but it isn’t on any kind of satisfying note and more just dropped with a shrug and a heavy clunk to the ground.


All in all, with a few minor tweaks, this could have seriously been a great movie. The comedy is still really good and shows Barron in true form, the writing shows a lot of meaning at its core when it comes to Manny’s character and the acting is pretty good overall, but the lack of proper resolution and sheer laziness when it comes to the romance seriously drag this film down. It’s better than Jupiter Ascending, as the writing may be troubled but it isn’t nearly as messy as in that film. However, in terms of combining character tragedy with more humourous moments, The Theory Of Everything did a better job of it. Even with the romantic issues though, I still find myself recommending this film; just know that this isn’t going to be as happy-go-lucky as some have billed it as being.

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