This movie made me smile so hard. I really don’t need to say more, but I’m going to. Writer-director Tony McNamara deserves some major love for it, and the Tribeca Film Festival premiere didn’t seem to do much for it, which is unfortunate.
I’d dare say that this film falls in the Sorkin/Sherman-Palladino camp: The characters all speak on an unrealistic, supremely witty, frustratingly quick plane, but they’re so lovable and fascinating that you can’t possibly hold this quality against them. Their verbal wordplay is fun to watch, more than anything. And, lest we forget, movies should be fun to watch sometimes!
I hadn’t heard of Nat Wolff before this movie, but it turns out that he was a Nickelodeon star and is a talented musician. All that, and he’s got the comedic timing of someone well beyond his years in the vein of Michael Cera. He’s a 20-year-old person, playing a 17-year-old senior, causing this 28-year-old woman to develop a crush. (Which is perfectly legal.) He facially resembles a young Sandler at times, but where Sandler used to fill blanks with coy stares and eyebrow raises, Wolff fills it with supreme confidence. I saw a preview recently for some absurd looking film adaptation of a teen novel that he was starring in, and the second he came on screen I wanted to see that movie, even though I completely don’t want to see that movie. Wolff is just that good.
He’s also got great chemistry with Emma Roberts, who plays his love interest. The two have an interesting dynamic, and they represent a new era of teenage movie characters. Wolff’s Ed Wallis is the new guy in town, and he’s an outsider, but he doesn’t ever let that deter him from finding his stride. He uses his charm to find a way onto the football team, he pursues a friendship with Roberts’ Eloise, he treats his mother with respect, and he earns the trust of his crusty neighbor. (I’ll get to the mother and the neighbor in a minute.) Eloise is a nerd, but she’s also completely gorgeous, too. Nerds can be beautiful. Beautiful girls can be smart. They don’t have to be mutually exclusive. They also don’t have to be outcasts, either. What a wonderful world. Of course, Ed and Eloise deal with some standard bullying from the more thickheaded members of the football team, but there are other teammates that stand up for Ed as well. The more that kids see portrayals of other kids standing up for themselves, and separating from the pack when they feel it’s right, and notice that this behavior isn’t a bad thing, the less hellish high school will be. I’m convinced of it.
Onto that mother and that neighbor. The role of Ed’s single mother, June, was played by Sarah Silverman, and probably written for her, too. Silverman really does not get enough credit for being a wonderful, delicate actress. It’s odd to see her embracing a “mother” role like this, only because she looks so incredibly young, but the casting really is on point. (She’s a youthful 44 in real life, so the math checks out; I aspire to look half as good when I reach her age.) Anyway, her June is sexually honest but also very self-deprecating. She’s a cool mom, but a somewhat insecure one, too. And she raised a self-aware, sensitive, curious teenager. This positive portrayal of single parenting is also quite noteworthy, and rare to boot.
And then there’s the title character, the neighbor, Ashby. I suspect this role was also written for Mickey Rourke. And I’ve heard this movie bears a bit of a resemblance to St. Vincent, which I did not see. So while I can’t applaud the movie for complete story originality, I can say that the combination of Rourke and Wolff is about as unique as it gets. Rourke’s Ashby is about 75% Rourke, just as all of his characters are, and incredibly compelling. Ed is assigned to interview an “older person” about their life (an overdone plot, to be sure), but the two quickly develop a friendship and a rapport. You can tell that Rourke really respects Wolff, and Wolff is beyond delighted to share the screen with Rourke. The honesty and trust between them is unique, because Ashby finds himself opening up to this kid, and Ed finds himself stepping up when Ashby’s health problems become serious. They come of age even though they’re both already pretty mature, and they find that they can’t learn what they need to know without the other. I hope this movie makes it out to theaters, because it’s a real sweetheart of a story.