Every so often an advertisement actually gets to you, and you listen. And by “you,” I mean “me.” I saw the trailer for Why Stop Now on the DVD for Your Sister’s Sister, and I was basically sold once I realized that Jesse Eisenberg and Tracy Morgan had to interact on-screen. A match made in… my very specific version of heaven, which also includes this. It’s my blog, so don’t judge, asshole.
Why Stop Now is not a great movie. It’s kind of a boring one, with a really interesting story buried in there somewhere. But it looks like a first-time effort, and it feels like a first-time effort, and damn it if there’s not a whole lot of effort put into this thing. I didn’t come away hating it or anything; I just wanted it to be more exciting, more dynamic, more high-stakes. Jesse Eisenberg kind of put his all into this role, as Eli, an erstwhile slacker/party-boy/dude-you-always-see-places. I have no idea where he works, or how old he’s supposed to be, or why the girl from Parenthood (Sarah Ramos) likes him, but he does have that certain something. Which is mostly arrogance, with a little bit of frazzled Jewish guilt and immense piano talent thrown in. When he takes his mother (Melissa Leo, who may have phoned this one in, bless her) to rehab, and finds out that she actually needs to be high in order to be admitted, the two of them go on a loping quest to find her some drugs. There’s a time limit, of course, because Eli has to get to an audition on time. And there’s a twist, because the drug dealers are Tracy Morgan and Isiah Whitlock, Jr., and that is funny.
As I mentioned before Eisenberg kind of acts the hell out of this one, perhaps in an attempt to be more of a leading man and less of a meek geek. I applaud his efforts to break free of this typecasting, and I think he manages to pull it off, even if the character of Eli is not really consistent. It’s fine and it works. Leo, however, and Morgan, have these theoretically juicy roles that don’t give them nearly enough material to work with. Melissa Leo could be really off the rails! Except her character is clean. Tracy Morgan could be batshit crazy! Except his character has a cane. It’s weird watching the two of them hold back, maintain composure, and defer many of the funny lines to Eisenberg, or let them float away into the air. I do enjoy, however, when Morgan says Eli’s mother’s name: Penny. It reminds me of when he says the word “quarry” on 30 Rock.
Funly enough, despite the tameness of each of the characters, the four of them together in the car make a nice little family. They bicker and banter pretty naturally, and they manage to teach each other Life Lessons while so many insane things are happening around them. It’s a damn shame that Morgan and Whitlock–sorry, Sprinkles and Black; couldn’t bring myself to use their character names until now–dissolve into thin air at the end of the movie. I’m honestly not sure what happens to them, or how they wound up back at their mother’s house, eating collared greens. (Yeah, collared greens.)
It’s also a shame that there was even the romance storyline in there at all, because it sort of wasted time and basically just added convenient slapstick outs from every scene for Eli, when we could have been finding out a more about him, and his mother, and their life. Parenthood was definitely a strong theme in this movie; Sprinkles and Black lived with their mother, as I mentioned before; Ramos’ character participated in American Revolution reenactments with her parents, Eli regularly played father figure to his younger sister Nicole, and both Nicole’s teacher and Penny’s sister played mother when Penny wasn’t around. I respect the message–parental guidance is vital, no matter how conventional the source–and I love the casting. I just wish this caper had been more of a crusade and less of a calm saunter.