Movie Review – Answers to Nothing (2011) (R)

Movie Review – Answers to Nothing (2011) (R)

Stories from LA

I can’t help but believe that somewhere inside Answer nothing is the great movie I really wanted it to be. Told as a series of intertwining storylines tied together by a single event, it touches on a range of issues that are both charming and compelling, including betrayal, recovery, loss, intolerance, love, faith and strength of character. It features a decent cast led by Dane Cook in his first dramatic role since 2007’s highly enjoyable crime thriller. Mr. Brooks. In short, it had all the necessary ingredients. Unfortunately, the film falls victim to indecisive editing, character overload, implausible dramatic situations and surprisingly unconvincing dialogue. All of this rests squarely on the shoulders of director Matthew Leutweiler, who is also co-writer and editor.

Set in Los Angeles, we meet a host of characters whose lives are somehow affected by the disappearance of a young girl. There’s Frankie, the detective assigned to the case (Julie Benz); though she has yet to prove it, she seems convinced that the girl’s neighbor, Beckworth (Greg German), is responsible for her disappearance. Indeed, he gives off creepy vibes in every scene he’s in. He even makes the crudely cheeky gesture of inviting Frankie to dinner during his interrogation. Frankie’s friend, a lawyer named Kate (Elizabeth Mitchell), is trying to get pregnant through insemination in the wind. She wants a baby so badly that she initially fails to see, then turns a blind eye to the infidelity of her therapist husband named Ryan (Cook). He meets a newly hatched rock singer named Tara (Aja Folkman), who has gigs but hasn’t hit her big time yet.

Ryan doesn’t believe in anything, least of all love. He is angry at his father for abandoning his mother and not telling her the truth. His mother, Marilyn (Barbara Hershey), is by far the happiest person in the entire film, even though it’s obvious she’s managing on nothing more than blind faith. She tried to instill this in Ryan by repeatedly telling him the highly romantic story of how his grandparents had met during World War II. Whether it happened the way she tells it, no one knows for sure. I don’t criticize her for being that way; I’d take happy lies over sad realities any day of the week and twice on Sunday. She even makes a good point about how her love for Ryan has no empirical evidence. The only way he knows she loves him is because he believes her when she tells him.

Now we’re branching out further into subplots that are either (a) so distantly related to the child abduction subplot that they seem like they belong in another movie, or (b) are so poorly developed that they shouldn’t have been included in the first place place. Kate’s current client is a recovering alcoholic named Drew (Miranda Bailey), who is fighting with his parents for custody of his brother Eric (Vincent Ventresca), a former runner who is now a vegetable. She seeks redemption by entering the Los Angeles Marathon with Eric and training hard for him. Meanwhile, we learn that Frankie is a single mother. In her only significant scene, Frankie’s teenager (Carly Scott Collins) has a heavily staged conversation with her teacher about Martin Luther King. Teacher Carter (Mark Kelly) spends most of his time playing internet fantasy games. Also, for reasons known only to the filmmakers, he was obsessed with the case of the missing girl.

Then there’s Ryan’s patient, a self-loathing black woman named Allegra (Callie Hawke). A television writer, she soon meets and begins dating a white man named Evan (Zach Guilford), who sits in a booth balancing sound for Tara’s band. Something could have developed here if it wasn’t just a subplot. It deserved its own movie. As it is, Evan is essentially a non-being, and the root of Allegra’s problems—including an extensive and random list of things she hates—remains unrevealed. Finally, there’s Carter’s neighbor, Jerry (Eric Palladino), who is introduced when he pulls Tara over for speeding. Back in the day, we see him scanning obituaries and attending very specific funerals.

Inevitably, some will compare this film to that of Paul Haggis Disaster, in which Los Angeles is the setting for several intertwining stories dealing with social issues. Unlike this Oscar-winning masterpiece, Answer nothing is terribly unfocused. It spends too much time on certain subplots, not enough time on others, and develops them all with the idea that there really aren’t any answers to anything. Some scenes seem to be included for purposes no greater than creating drama, most notably an unprovoked and unlikely confrontation between Carter and Beckworth at the end of the film. Many passages of dialogue, including Marilyn’s observations about faith and love, sound less like flowing theatrical conversations and more like sermons from speech and debate class. It always makes me sad when a good idea is ruined by bad execution.

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