Answer Man
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Answer Man

Sometimes what may appear to be a simplistic, straight forward film genre is the most difficult to master. One of the best examples of this would be the perennial favorite; the romantic comedy. On first consideration you might think that all you need is to bring together two initially incompatible, let the become attracted to each other, pull them apart and then in the final act let them get back together to live happily ever after. That works out great in theory but if you have watched a just a few representative samples of this type of movie you will quickly discover just how arduous a task it is to create a workable movie of this type. There are film makers that chase the perfect combination of elements foe their entire careers and never quite get it right. For a new comer to the film industry to select this format as their foray into their career is a bold move that deserves points just for the degree of difficulty. This is exactly the position That is exactly the position that new writer director John Hindman placed himself in with his movie ‘Arlen Farber’ also known by its DVD release title ‘The Answer Man’. The film starts out nicely with a strong premise sufficiently different from other flick in the genre and sports an affable cast but has trouble pulling everything together; staying on track just stays out of reach. The film does look better than a lot of low budget independent films which is a testament to the inherent talent of the director and his cinematographer, Oliver Bokelberg The film made the usual Indy rounds starting with a kick off at the Sundance Film Festival. Over all the film may not have fulfilled its potential but it has to be noted that it was not for a lack of trying or for that matter a lack of talent.

The story that Mr. Hindman provides here may have work better as a farce instead of a straight forward romantic comedy. Some of the situations are just so far over the top that it has the tendency to pull you out of the narrative. For example when the lead character, ably played by Jeff Daniels, injuries his back it was bad enough that he had to listen to the same skipping record over and over but to have him crawl to the chiropractic office owned by the lead female character Elizabeth (Lauren Graham), it was too much slapstick and inconsistent with the level of most of the humor. One generally required element for a film of this sort is to permit the audience to readily identify with the romantic leads; here Farber comes off as such a hypocritical, misanthropic loser that no one would be readily able to see things from his point of view. Perhaps some if the sillier events were intended to soften this image and humanize him more but that didn’t come across strong enough; good try though. This is part of the two edged sword that pervades the film. The ability is there but not yet sufficiently well honed to be fully effective. It seems evident that the intent here was to blend a character study with the romantic comedy; an excellent concept that I hope Hindman revisits once he gathers some more experience in his craft.

At its heart this is a touching tale of two very damaged people somehow coming together to help heal each other. Arlen is the author of a book that has been a best seller for over twenty years, ‘God and Me’. It has been translated into over one hundred languages sparking a new age revival of spirituality. The premise of the book is that Arlen has had conversations with the Creator. His flaw and major sin is hypocrisy; the truth is he can’t help anyone since he has cut himself off from humanity living a lonely life in his well appointed brownstone. Elizabeth is a single mother of a bright seven year old boy. She is extremely over protective of him giving him only healthy food and strapping the child into a car seat that looks better suited to a NASA mission. Her hypocrisy is event when seconds after dropping the boy off at school she can’t wait to light up a cigarette. The meet and a little too rapidly fall in love. Arlen shows her his prized movie monster figure collection and she trust him alone with her son. As a romantic comedy it hits all the requirements although the chemistry between the actors is a bit lacking. There was no sense of a true connection growing between them. If the concentration had focused more the inner conflict each had in opening up their respective closed off lives there would have been a lot more to work with. As it is the potential is there waiting bur is still untapped.

Posted 11/09/09

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