If thing American audiences seem to respond to in movies is the underdog. Everyone loves to see the put upon, loser of a man rise above all odds and succeed at something important. There is a feeling in those watching that typically falls into one of two categories. Either the people watch feel good about themselves because their lives are no were near as bad or the can identify with the hapless protagonist and rejoice when he comes out on top. One of the latest films in this specific genre is ‘Meet Bill’ but you may see it listed as just plain old ‘Bill. The movie tries to follow the formula and has a lot going for it but nothing seems to mesh properly. It fails to work on just about every level and becomes a virtual self parody. There is a place for a silly comedy; we all have a few as among our guilty pleasures list. This film tries to aspire to silly but can’t even manage that. It is a flick that you start watching wanting it to work out and perhaps that lingering disappointment adds to the negative feelings left at the end. There are some flicks that can be considered good as a beer and pizza viewing. There is not enough beer in the country to make this film good for anything more than a few chuckles. Some young guys watching will be concentrating on the two lead actresses; Jessica Alba and Elizabeth Banks. They are both stunningly beautiful but that is not enough to make a movie.
The movie was written and co-directed by Melisa Wallack. She is a newcomer for both jobs and has some work ahead of her. It is an accomplishment that she garnered her initial employment in these fields in a film with so many well known cast members. There is a glimmer of some talent here but it needs more nurturing and maturing before something successful can be created. The target demographic here seems wrong. The puerile nature of the jokes seems more geared towards the high school and college guy market. There is a boy modeling lingerie and a man and boy throwing fireworks at each other is just an example of the humor level. While this is acceptable in a flick like one of the ‘American Pie’ franchise it is odd in a film about a middle aged man experiencing a mid life crisis. The excuse that seems to come out in the plot is the titular Bill (Aaron Eckart), was emotionally stunted at fifteen. The adult males in the audience are more prone to not identify with this character. Many will want to stand in front of the screen and shout ‘okay Bill your life sucks, just man up and move along’. There is nothing in the story that induces empathy in the audience. Bill is such a sad sack that it is almost impossible to care about what he allows to happen. It would appear to come down to a matter of accountability. Bill enables others to walk all over him. It is one thing to cheer on the underdog but there has to be a spark there to make the viewers care about what is going on. Another example of Bill bringing much of his own misery on himself is how he wants to get his cheating wife Jess (Elizabeth Banks) back. Bill might as well just drop his trousers and squat over the office paper shredder and finish the job of emasculation that she started. This would at least be less painful for the audience to watch.
Wallack’s partner in directing this flick is her husband, Bernie Goldmann, another first time director. He has worked as a producer on several films including ‘Soul Man’ which made the lamentable attempt to bring back black face, and ‘Saving Silverman’ which as achieved a certain cult following. To his credit he also worked as a producer for ‘300’ and ‘Corrina, Corrina’ which fared somewhat better. The pacing appears too be off here. The story doesn’t pull together in part because there is so much time painting Bill as a loser that when he begins to get his act together it is too late. There is also some inappropriate fodder for humor here. Some involves Bill trying to get his wife jealous with a girl who is underage. He also tries to show the kids how cool he is by smoking pot. Again, this may work to some degree for a teen sex romp comedy but not in a midlife crisis flick. Getting rid of his chest hairs may have been funny in’40 Year Old Virgin’ but here the bit falls flat.
The flick begins with Bill in the men’s room thinking about just how much he hates his life. He is a Junior Vice President at the bank his father in law, Mr. Jacoby (Holmes Osborne), owns. It is a useless job with more meaning or real responsibilities. The only reason he has it is to support his wife Jess. Bill is little more than a gofer for the real managers and executive of the bank. Bill has realized that he is getting old. There are grey hairs starting to appear and he is disgusted when he notices that his stomach is now a prominent paunch. It turns out that he is in the bathroom of a private high school. Bill has to be there because his father in law just donated a chapel. A boy, known as ‘The Kid’ (Logan Lerman) runs in to flush some pot followed by the principal (Conor O'Farrell). Bill lies to cover for the boy. The principal tries to get Bill to volunteer for the school’s mentoring program and Bill agrees. The Kid tries to hand Bill a wad of cash to thank him but Bill refuses. Later Bill notices his wife with the ‘on the scene’ newscaster, Chip Johnson (Timothy Olyphant). Bill will soon discover that Jess is having an affair with the handsome television newsman. The Kid meets Bill in the bank. The boy wants to mentor him and immediately wants Bill to break the rules and show him the money. Later after the suspicions about his wife grow Bill meets The Kid and his friends, Sharon (Ana Lucasey) and Donald (Andy Zou). Bill wants to quite the bank to open a donut franchise. This would mean less money which Jess is opposed to. It would also make him happy; something else that Jess doesn’t want. The students decide that Bill needs help and want to make him over. The Kid meets a young woman, Lucy (Jessica Alba) working in a lingerie store who will eventually be pulled in to one of the plans to make Jess jealous and want Bill back.
The shame here is the way none of the cast is given enough real material to sink their teeth into and show what they have. There is no doubt that Aaron Eckart is a very talented actor. He has a real flair for off beat, dark comedy such as his performance in ‘Thank you for Smoking’. Eckart is at his best as the slick character not the lamentable thing he plays here. Just about the same goes for Olyphant. If you remember him from the HBO series ‘Deadwood’ you know that there is power and grit in this man. Here he is reduced to a stereotype of the vain and overly confident TV newsman. The young ladies here are great to look at. Alba works fairly well as the innocent Judy while Banks seems to take great joy in playing the shrew of a wife. She comes across as pure evil in many of her scenes.
The film is on DVD from First Look Studios. They are a great place to go for the odd little independent films that weren’t given much attention in the theaters. Don’t blame them for this one, everyone deservers an off day.