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Answers to Nothing

2011 | 123 min | R

Answers to Nothing


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Theatrical release date

 02 December, 2011

Country of origin

 United States

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Answers to Nothing Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, December 2, 2011

The heavy hearts of Angelenos are once again united in sorrow in “Answers to Nothing,” a determined multi-character downer that aims to make its audience feel horrible about life and all of its challenges. Perhaps I’m being as overdramatic as the film, but it’s difficult to not feel overwhelmed by director Matthew Leutwyler’s effort, which is such a persistently melancholy creation, slowly foiling up the windows as it beats tepid subplots into the ground over the course of its indulgent 120-minute run time. Some impassioned performances ease the flow of gloom, but it’s a long, steady walk to the noose for a picture in dire need of Prozac and some fresh air.

In the heart of Los Angeles, various souls are struggling with daily life, finding their isolation unbearable as bad decisions and personal tragedy create frustrations they’re unwilling to confront. Ryan (Dane Cook) is facing infertility issues with wife Kate (Elizabeth Mitchell), while engaging in an affair with singer Tara (Aja Volkman); Allegra (Kali Hawk) is a self-loathing African-American who fights to put her personal problems behind her when she meets a friendly Caucasian guy (Zach Gilford); Jerry (Erik Palladino) is a grief-stricken cop wandering the city streets questioning his purpose; Frankie (Julie Benz) is a detective pushing to solve the abduction of a local girl, finding the prime suspect (Greg Germann) intriguing in his forward manner; and Drew (Miranda Bailey) is an alcoholic determined to compete in a local marathon with her vegetative brother, fighting her parents for his caregiver position.

Leutwyler (“Dead and Breakfast”) works a common genre for his latest effort, spinning a web of soured lives hunting for deeper meaning. It’s a network of negative impulses dragging around the big city, with each character haunted by something in their past or stumped by social expectations. The filmmaker keeps the big ideas to a minimum to make room for these idiosyncratic personalities, observing hurtful behavior rub up against ineffective redemptive ambitions; he creates an air of mystery and community, taking extended screentime to connect the dots, generating a mood of discontent with an eye toward poetic execution. “Answers to Nothing” isn’t a total failure, but it’s a story in need of pruning, requiring more focus than Leutwyler is capable of providing. The director is content to walk in Robert Altman footprints (or Paul Haggis, to be more accurate), hoping to stumble upon some pronounced despair or bolt of enlightenment that might hold the movie in place. Instead, the feature advances clumsily, never complicating these lives in a meaningful manner.

The ensemble provides a faint sense of substance to “Answers to Nothing.” Bailey is especially noteworthy as a woman carrying immense guilt, looking to the marathon as a manner of atonement, keeping her demons at bay while engaged in legal jousting with her bitter parents. Drew’s subplot is the most effective of the bunch, hitting on authentic emotions and shivers of disease. Mitchell also introduces a woozy sense of violation as a woman growing increasingly aware of her husband’s infidelities, smack dab in the middle of an awkward conception treatment. In a rare semi-dramatic role, Cook can’t help but introduce a few comedic beats to the picture, though he’s eventually leashed in the third act, with Ryan finally confronting the delusions of his family and his hurtful sexual pursuits.

Leutwyler holds “Answers to Nothing” low to the ground for the most part, soaking up the slow-burn despair, using the case of the missing girl as something of a structure for the film, building to an explosive conclusion of emotional purging that feels alien to the rest of the anesthetized feature. The director wants to end with bang, lassoing the stories together, intercutting between violence and stage performance catharsis, but he can’t hide the desperation -- the story doesn’t require a climatic boil, it needs an engaging rhythm of ache. Going from stasis to artificial agitation only reinforces the routine of the picture and its limited imagination for unhappiness.

Starring: Dane Cook, Elizabeth Mitchell, Julie Benz, Barbara Hershey
Director: Matthew Leutwyler

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