Mike O'Connell, Jesse Eisenberg, Jim Gaffigan, Ann Dowd
Peter Kline, Mike O'Connell
Breaking Glass Pictures (DVD)
Can you imagine how Jesse Eisenberg must feel? One minute, you're starring in low-budget indie fare like Sol Tryon's The Living Wake with a production budget right around $500,000 and the next you're looking at an Oscar nomination for David Fincher's likely Best Picture nominee The Social Network.
Eisenberg is the highlight here, in a darkly comical tale that is hardly ever funny despite constantly carrying an air about itself that says "I'm brilliant and you're stupid if you don't realize it."
I guess I'm stupid.
The Living Wake is the story of self-proclaimed genius K. Roth Binew (script co-writer Mike O'Connell, grossly miscast), who learns that his life is about to be cut short by an unnamed yet fatal disease (Can you say brain fog?) and so he decides to go out in style by organizing himself a living wake in an effort to revisit those who have touched his life including a village prostitute and his estranged mother. He's accompanied by his faithful assistant Mills (Jesse Eisenberg), and the stage is set for what must've looked awfully promising on the written page.
The Living Wake feels like an attempt to blend Monty Python with Juno along with bittersweet moments resembling Little Miss Sunshine, and it's easy to understand why this film would have been popular on the more understanding and patient festival circuit.
While Mike O'Connell, who co-wrote the script and clearly understands the character, is certainly game for the multiple layers of Binew, the film feels like an over-extended Conan O'Brien sketch that simply doesn't work. The outlandishness feels pretentiously self-righteous and is so devoid of inspiration that were it not for the presence of the always spot on Jesse Eisenberg it's likely the film would be a task to watch for its entire 92 minute run time. Don't get me wrong...O'Connell is clearly a talented guy, but either he's off or the character's off and since he's the co-writer he gets the blame either way.
The film's production design feels like it got borrowed from a Wes Anderson set, both a compliment and an insult. Unfortunately, when one so clearly borrows a cinematic style it adds up the pressure to measure up. The Living Wake never measures up to even the weakest in the Wes Anderson world.
The Living Wake is now on home video courtesy of the fine folks at Breaking Glass Pictures after a brief arthouse run. Fans of Eisenberg or O'Connell's comedy may want to pick this one up, but do yourself a favor and make it a pre-viewed copy.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic