Indie comedies don't get much stranger than the oddball endeavor from writer/director Bill Byington "Somebody Up There Likes Me." To boil it down, you will either think this movie is an unorthodox treat or you will absolutely loathe it! I don't believe that this experience will brook much middle ground. At only 75 minutes, the movie has an experimental feel and an unrepentant quirkiness. Its humor, for the most part, derives from awkward situations and uncomfortable dialogue (or even more uncomfortable silences). With a combination of deadpan humor and animated interludes, the film charts the life and loves of its central character Max Youngman (Keith Paulson). Max is oblivious to the world around him, completely self centered, and seemingly unwilling to change. An unambitious slacker, he coasts through life on the indulgence of others. He's not a good friend, not a good husband, and not a good father. His life lessons are few and far between, but the screenplay revels in the constancy of his continued cluelessness. And to see Max's skewed worldview is not without its charms.
I used the world constancy to describe Max because, in many ways, he never ages in "Somebody Up There Likes Me." Neither in emotional intellect or in physical appearance, this is not a character that will evolve or come to a meaningful epiphany about life. That is both the major plot thread and the sustained joke of the film. We meet Max as his marriage has come to a close. He's a waiter at a high end establishment where he works with his best friend Sal (Nick Offerman, who also serves as a producer on the film). Clinically dispassionate, he want to move on with his life without repeating the same mistakes. A likely candidate for the most unromantic courtship ever is another server (Jess Weixler). Once establishing these primary characters, the movie than races through time to chart their progress in the following years. The movie spends a few minutes on a scene and than may advance five years to the next scene. It's an unusual narrative device, but it serves this small movie well.
It would be easy to look at "Somebody Up There Likes Me" as either an experiment in hyperreality or just plain fantasy. I tend to opt for the first explanation. There is a metaphysical component to the storytelling in that a mysterious suitcase follows our protagonist through the picture. I won't reveal any more than that, but I'm not sure it added a whole lot to the experience for me as a viewer. It's strange, to be sure, but not necessarily as integrated into the plot line as I would like. The cast makes the most of the film's unrepentant oddity. Weixler is appealing and Offerman is solid (although I'd still like to see him headline a piece). He even enlists real life wife Megan Mullally for a small but important role, you may not recognize her at first but you'll recognize that voice! But the movie really rests on Paulson's shoulders. And quite frankly, I thought he was hysterical. Sure the performance is one-note, but that's the whole idea. I thought he perfectly embodied the film's man-child aesthetic. "Somebody Up There Likes Me" may be too eccentric or too minimalist for some. It's a divisive experience that you'll either love or hate. KGHarris, 9/13.