Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Film for Lovers: The Baxter
What's this? A new Spiral Reverie entry less than 24 hours later? What happened to the usual 2+ week gap!? I haven't had enough time to prepare! Believe me, I'm as surprised as you are.
Of course, now we're in the midst of a series of posts on good Valentine's season movies. (While I'm effectively proving here that if I felt like it, I could update this thing much more frequently. I might be able to retain more regular readers if I did that. I just can't guarantee a consistency of quality if I post too often. That's my excuse for the moment, anyway.) In particular, focused on highlighting films that don't get that much - or nearly enough - attention in the mainstream. Obviously, I began with Paris, Je T'aime last time. Tonight? We take a few minutes to look at an independent romantic comedy that'll make you laugh instead of rotting your teeth.
The film in question is, of course, none other than The Baxter, a film by Michael Showalter of the absurdist Stella comedy trio. (An off-shoot of the '90s MTV sketch comedy series, The State, which in turn spawned Viva Variety, Reno 911!, and short-lived Stella TV series on Comedy Central. Michael Ian Black and Ken Marino (Who also had a recurring role on Veronica Mars) of The State also had regular roles in the second half of the first season of Reaper. Other movies by The State have included: David Wain's Wet Hot American Summer, The Ten, and Role Models, along with Ken Marino's New England clam-digging drama, Diggers, and Robert Ben Garant's Reno 911!: Miami.) The Baxter is considerably less crass than Wet Hot American Summer's '80s summer camp movie parody humor.
Selling itself as "a romantic comedy for anybody who's ever been dumped," The Baxter tells the story of Elliot Sherman (Michael Showalter himself), a "Baxter," as defined by the film: the dull, nice guy who always gets dumped for the far more exciting protagonist as a standard romantic comedy trope. (See: A whole lotta John Cusack films from the '80s.) The dull guy women settle for when they can't be with who they actually love. As we're introduced to the character, we look back through his life and see him being dumped by girlfriends time and time again for more exciting guys who put it all on the line for her.
Elliot meets the film's two heroines through his accounting work - woman of his dreams magazine editor Caroline Swann (Elizabeth Banks, who's appeared in other Stella and The State works) and similarly geeky office temp Cecil Mills (Michelle Williams). And ultimately, Elliot ends up engaged to Caroline, only to have things start going wrong during the wedding planning between the numerous compatibility issues the couple faced and the appearance of the love of Bradley Lake (Justin Theroux), love of Caroline's life. With a break-up seeming imminent, it's up to Cecil to help Elliot learn to take risks in order to become the assertive leading man type he needed to become in order to take control of his life and escape the Baxter curse.
A gentle, enjoyable film that I've no doubt men and women could enjoy equally as much, The Baxter features a lot of small laughs in its offbeat script. The film's a pleasure to look at, with colorful cinematography and plenty of breathtaking shots of New York. The sentimental piano soundtrack complements the film well and helps to build its atmosphere. And in addition to the aforementioned cast members, the film sports a strong supporting cast, including: Showalter's fellow Stella members Michael Ian Black and David Wain, Peter Dinklage, Paul Rudd, Zak Orth, Catherine Lloyd Burns, A.D. Miles, Joe Lo Truglio, and Ken Marino.
Adorable and intelligently clever in its writing, The Baxter's a fresh take on a genre defined by being safe and inoffensive, and possesses an infectious rewatchability in the simple pleasantness of the experience. It may not initially seem like much on the surface (As that's the genre), but it's both an expertly crafted tribute to the genre (Particularly taking after an older style of genre writing) and an effective subversion of the genre at its most tired and trite. A very light film, this one will leave you smiling.