At first, I wasn't sure where it was going... Up, down or just sideways. But soon, I realized the filmmakers were creating a world that resembled reality far more than almost any movie I've seen in that there are collisions between events, intentions, characters, loves, hates ...and the whole stew can be hysterically funny, odd, disturbing, heartbreaking and then funny all over again. In this way, I have to give the film enormous credit and gratitude that it does not try to be like every other movie. It does not talk down to its audience.
It takes place in 1986 in the days before the Challenger Shuttle blew up, but the themes of heroism and unexpected tragedy play out in subtle and clever ways. I think the critics who didn't like this movie are used to following very well paved roads with well defined markers. This movie follows its characters first to last and that can make it bumpy and twisty and ultimately, so much better. And because the characters are so three dimensional, the markers which we expect only come if the characters lead us there. They do in the end. The director lands us where we need to be. But along the way, we are on ground which is just as unsettled as the characters who turn to ridiculous methods to lessen the pain of losing someone they loved in their lives. If you're willing to walk this unsettled ground, it's well worth the ride. The performances are outstanding, especially Steve Coogan and Olivia Thirlby. If, on the other hand, you need to be spoon-fed or for your plots to be singular and instantly identifiable, you will probably hate it. You kind of have to give in to it and then the doors open and the characters and the overall tone of the film resonates. It WILL make you laugh and cry.
I saw this at a promotional screening. It was mostly filled with Hilary Duff fans. I am not one, but am much more so now. She does wonderfully well as the Lolita wannabe seductress. Again, the character is so finely drawn that some might think since she's not a successful seducer, the character and the movie leave you hanging. It's really the opposite. It's her lack of success which makes her character so compelling. In many ways you can say the same about the movie as a whole. It plays its own game according to the rules which govern human behavior, not conventional plot points. This results in an awkwardness which is much more real and much more satisfying than just about anything I've seen in some time. I highly recommend.