Sunday, September 22, 2013

An original--and an odd one--Bob Byington's family saga SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME

Bob Byington is a name (and a movie-maker) new to me, but I'm awfully glad I stumbled onto his SOMEBODY UP THERE LIKES ME, for it is as odd a film as I've watched in some time. I missed its theatrical opening earlier this year, but its sudden appearance on Netflix's streaming facility this week led me to give it an immediate shot. It took awhile to get with the program, considering that most of the characters (especially the lead, Max, played by Keith Poulson) are not very likable. Stick with it, however, because it gets a whole lot better as it goes along. Even if you can't quite put your finger on the filmmaker's point, by the end of the film, I think you'll feel that your time was well spent.

The very confusion you're likely to feel here -- Why do some characters age, while others do not? Why does everyone seem to take life so cavalierly, almost non-seriously? -- adds to the movie's bizarre-but-impactful quality. Mr. Byington, shown at left, has given us a four-generation family saga, all packed into a mere 76 minutes. Love, death, career, betrayal and more happen over five-year intervals, and things that would normally shake us to our bones, occur so fast and in such a routine manner that our reactions here would seem to call into question the reactions we experience in more "normal" movies.

It's our hero, Max, who is anything but heroic (that's Mr. Poulson, above), whose failure to age takes on immense proportions. Is this because he also does not in the least mature? Perhaps. His son, does, however, going from infant to toddler to youngster to teen to adult, even as others grow and die. (The movie spans some 35 years.) That's the son, as an adult (played quite interestingly by Jonathan Togo), below, right, shown with Max's grandson.

The film begins as Max catches his wife (Kate Lyn Sheil) in flagrante delicto. Soon he is married again to the lovely Lyla who has a penchant for breadsticks (played by Jess Weixler, below, right) yet he is not an ounce happier, more intelligent nor curious than before.

His best friend Sal (Nick Offerman, below), along with Max and Lyla, all work at the same steak house restaurant -- this place sort of holds the movie together -- which rather defines "career" so far as the film is concerned (one venue or idea is as good as another).

Stylistically, the writer/director coaxes good performances out of his cast -- all the actors manage to inhabit the same bizarre page -- and his use of simple, colorful animation (below) to thread the scenes together proves charming and full of vibrant color.

There's a magic suitcase (symbolic of...?), a nanny who doubles as sexual partner, a best friend who doubles as a sexual betrayer, and a therapist who sings (a crackerjack job from Megan Mullally, below, right). All of this goes by in the snap of the fingers, and if its meaning eludes, its strangeness more than makes up for this -- as though Mr. Byington is on to something very important, but has decided, with the kind of perversity the movie loves, to hold it just slightly out of our reach.

Somebody Up There Likes Me (not to be confused with the Paul Newman movie from the mid-1950s), the title of which has got to be viewed super-ironically -- as, I suppose, is this entire movie -- can be seen now via Netflix streaming, on DVD and elsewhere, I imagine.

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