By Chuck Graham, TucsonStage.com
From the heart of Austin’s independent film community which first brought us the attitude of “Slacker” in 1991, then joined forces with others in developing the “mumblecore” movement, comes another step in the evolution of geek theater – “Somebody Up There Likes Me” now playing at the Loft Cinema, 3233 E. Speedway Blvd.
This is the fifth film of writer-director Bob Byington (“Harmony and Me”), one of Austin’s cinema anchors, and surely his most accessible.
The ironically overarching tone is more reminiscent of 1971’s “Harold and Maude” as the buddy characters of Max (doleful Keith Poulson) and Sal (wisecracking Nick Offerman) take us straight through the life cycle of dead-end bachelorhood to unhappy marriage to desperate peaks of illicit sex and on to the fade-out of old age…all the while never aging more than a year or so.
It is the philosophical attitude, rather than the plot, that makes “Somebody Up There Likes Me” worth watching. As for the curious choice of that title, there is absolutely no connection to the movie’s story, or to the 1956 boxing drama that starred a young Paul Newman.
Some film writers are comparing Byington’s picture to a combination of Todd Solondz and Wes Anderson. That sounds about right, too. The oddly appealing Max is so helpless and hapless, so stifled by his own inertia, you can’t help but feel superior. There is genius here in the way Byington consistently hits that balance between making Max a limp dish rag and a courageous limp dish rag.
The female line is held up by Lyla (Jess Weixler), another lost soul who is familiar with all the roles modern society will impose on her, but has no idea how to play any of them. She is joined by the spontaneously naughty nanny Clarissa (Stephanie Hunt), who doesn’t care about rules or roles or anything resembling responsible behavior.