Somebody Up There Likes Me
Director: Bob Byington • 76 min.
11/10, 4 p.m. • 11/11, 4:30 p.m.
Thalian Hall, Main Stage
$10 ind. ticket
“Somebody Up There Likes Me” is the perfect example of a quirky comedy that gets everything right. Max (Keith Poulson) is a waiter at a local steakhouse. His first marriage has fallen apart and he’s prone to long, introspective bouts of cynicism to whomever is willing to listen. His friend Sal (Nick Offerman, who happened to be in Wilmington over the summer filming “We’re the Millers”) is a kindred spirit, a cynical curmudgeon, which seems more appropriate given his lot in life. Max meanders through existence sharing his every thought with anyone in earshot, delivering in deadpan humor, rapid-fire sentences. He meets fellow employee Lyla (Jess Wexler), and the two are quickly embroiled in a romantic relationship. Soon, they’re married with a child on the way. Things get increasingly complicated when Max starts having an affair with the nanny.
Or do they?
Director Bob Byington uses a very deliberate dry-wit style to mold his characters. Every situation, every emotion, every dire strait is navigated with a remarkable lack of gravitas. Max and company deal with death, infidelity and tragedy with the emotional complexity of someone placing an order at Starbucks. The comedy comes from the complete detachment from reality, for which most of the characters seem to experience.
The film works because it never stops moving. Most scenes are noticeably brief. Everything moves at such a perpetual pace that the audience is rarely given a moment to pause and reflect on the lunacy they’ve just experienced. It works well for the movie. The overall tone matches a reserved, charming silliness. The whole film feels like the bastard lovechild of Wes Anderson and a block of “Adult Swim” live-action programming, two things I enjoy a great deal.
Byington has become a film-festival darling with some very entertaining offerings, like “Registered Sex Offender” and “Harmony and Me.” “Somebody Up There Likes Me” continues his streak of engaging, off-kilter flicks, which should appeal to fans of independent film. It’s idiosyncratic in the best way possible.
A lot of credit has to go to a well-balanced cast; they deliver on a wonderfully eclectic group of characters. Some lesser-known faces like Poulson are flanked with more recognizable comedic mainstays like Offerman (“Parks and Recreation”) and his lovely wife, Megan Mullally (“Will and Grace”).
Ultimately, “Somebody Up There Likes Me” is a funny and often melancholy look at life. I’d recommend getting a ticket early for this one to one of its two screenings. If there’s any justice, it should sell out quickly.