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Dealin' with Idiots

2013 | 86 min | Not rated | 1.85:1

Dealin' with Idiots


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Theatrical release date

 12 July, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

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Dealin' with Idiots Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, July 18, 2013

To fully appreciate “Dealin’ with Idiots,” the viewer must have some working knowledge of its writer/director/star Jeff Garlin. Or perhaps patience is a more accurate description. The combative comedian who rose to fame on the HBO program “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Garlin is an acquired taste, repeatedly falling back on his skills of improvisation and observation to help him crack wise, often punctuated with his squealy, infectious laugh. The howl is sadly missing from Garlin’s second helming stint (following up his 2006 movie, “I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With”), but the rest of his loose sense of humor remains in “Dealin’ with Idiots,” an impulsive character-driven effort that’s good for a few laughs and some serious confusion.

A successful comedian who enjoys his son’s participation in little league but understands the limits of the boy’s baseball talents, Max (Jeff Garlin) dutifully shows up to local games, submerging himself in the idiosyncrasy of his fellow guardians, including a lesbian couple (Gina Gershon and Kerri Kenney), high-maintenance dads (Fred Willard and Richard Kind), manic coaches (J.B. Smoove and Bob Odenkirk), and a gorgeous nanny (Hope Dworaczyk). Appreciating the comedic value of these odd people, Max decides to interview them individually for an upcoming screenplay, hoping to use their quirky behavior to fuel the writing, much to the confusion of his wife, Ava (Nia Vardalos). Embarking on various adventures with these coaching and parental figures, Max struggles to define their kookiness, often retreating to the companionship of his father’s ghost (Timothy Olyphant) to center his mind and recall the good old days of distracted parenting.

Garlin doesn’t really direct “Dealin’ with Idiots,” he corrals it. It’s an improvised picture employing a wide range of whirring minds, using the colorful nature of parental involvement as an entryway to expose personal behaviors, with Max taking in the strange social interactions shared among people trying to be supportive of their children. It’s a premise with promise, allowing for various actors to work their motivations in unique ways. However, the effort is hardly driven by Garlin, it’s leisurely, sitting back as far as possible to conjure a mood of summertime little league in motion, with its high-strung coaches and uninterested kids, while the rest remain in the bleachers, chatting and gossiping between strike-outs.

There’s a relaxed tone to “Dealin’ with Idiots” that’s engaging, especially when Garlin commits wholeheartedly to it, never steering the feature into overwrought areas of melodrama. He’s content to observe and that’s exactly what the movie offers, visiting the parents for little vignettes of experience, finding Max overwhelmed with the peculiarity of these lives. Coach Ted (Smoove) has erected a trailer park “compound” from himself, hosting a weekly group were participants work out the particulars of their future autobiographies. Caitlin (Kenney) and Sophie (Gershon) reveal a slight antagonism to their interplay, with Max afraid to point out the more masculine member of their same-sex relationship. Marty (Willard) is a baseball fanatic living in the guest house of his own property, looking to distract his interviewer with white lies to protect the strangeness of his living arrangement. And Harold is a flawed family man who lives for his monthly dose of “Soldier of Fortune” magazine, a habit he hides from fussbudget wife Rosie (Jami Gertz), a woman also in charge of the team’s healthy snacks table.

The comedy of “Dealin’ with Idiots” emerges from the uncomfortable interactions, watching Max make small talk with these strange folk, marveling over their nuttiness. The interview situations are filled with bellylaughs, but there’s a nervous energy winding through the work that’s amusing, and faux pas incidents are properly managed by Garlin, who embraces the art of the awkward conversation. There are a few extremes of silliness, most emerging from manic, costumed team supporter Forrest (Dave Sheridan), yet the movie mostly takes it easy, allowing the assembled talent to do their thing, with Willard clearly winning the battle of the sharp minds. A few of the encounters, including Max’s visit to Coach Jimbo’s (Odenkirk) day job at a printing store, simply die onscreen, with all parties struggling to make funny without anything inspired to work with. And time with a suspiciously defensive parent (Steve Agee) isn’t developed to satisfaction, arriving short of expectations.

“Dealin’ with Idiots” has its highlights and its misfires, while time spent with Max and his father feels more like Garlin’s personal therapy than anything that adds weight to a shallow picture. The movie still carries charm and a pleasing sense of patience with its comedic constipation, though it’s not an effort created for an impulsive viewing. Research Garlin and his instincts, and then view the feature. Going in cold will only amplify the film’s limitations.

Starring: Jeff Garlin, Nia Vardalos, Fred Willard, Bob Odenkirk, J.B. Smoove, Gina Gershon
Director: Jeff Garlin

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