Sunday, April 30, 2017

“Aardvark”– Movie Review

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On the final weekend of The Tribeca Film Festival, I attended a screening of “Aardvark”, a drama which made its World Premiere earlier in the festival; it stars Zachary Quinto, Jenny Slate and Jon Hamm. 


When an emotionally disturbed man seeks assistance from a therapist, can she help mend the relationship with his brother despite her romantic involvement with the brother?


Josh (Quinto) finds himself at something of a crossroads in his life.  That’s why he’s seeking assistance from Emily (Slate), a local Clinical Social Worker who’s set up practice out of her own home in this Queens, New York, neighborhood.  A troubled man, Josh is on multiple medications due to a prior diagnosis of schizophrenia.  In addition to that, he’s currently experiencing great anxiety over his relationship with his older brother Craig (Hamm), whom he hasn’t seen in years.  Through their sessions, Emily sets out to peel back the layers to understand the source of the conflict.  

Craig, by contrast, has gone on to enjoy a life of great success as an actor in Hollywood.  Having starred in a hit television series, Craig’s returned to his Queens neighborhood to sell the house that was left to him by his and Josh’s late parents.  Despite being in the vicinity, Craig is reluctant to visit Josh; Josh, however, believes he is being visited by Craig, but these are hallucinations that are merely a manifestation of his mental illness.  Sadly, when Josh sees a police officer or a homeless woman, he believes that this is his brilliant brother Craig as an actor in character. 

When Craig visits Emily to check up on Josh’s condition, they hit it off immediately and start dating.  Before long, they enter into a romantic relationship which both know to be wrong but irresistible.  Over time, Josh’s condition worsens and Craig becomes increasingly distant.  After suffering a beating from some locals, Josh is hospitalized; Emily visits him and is confronted with the realization it is imperative Craig gets over his hesitancy to see Josh – but when she finally convinces Craig to visit him once Josh is discharged, will their meeting patch things up or only prove to make matters worse?   


Based on the little amount of screen time the character gets, this is clearly not Craig’s story.  Therefore, simply by the process of elimination, it would seem that either Emily or Josh have the majority of time in “Aardvark”.  So which one of them is the protagonist here?  It can’t be Emily because she’s part of the problem – she is, arguably, the world’s worst therapist based on the many bad decisions we see her make throughout the story (including bad decisions she’s made in her past, given what eventually gets revealed about her). 

This leaves Josh as the only character who could possibly be perceived as the protagonist of “Aardvark”.  Therein lies the movie’s fatal flaw.  Josh, as sympathetic as he may be, is a difficult character to root for because his illness precludes him from being in control of his own life; as the protagonist, Josh should be the one with the character arc, but it is in fact his brother, Craig, who goes through the transformation.  This change is not voluntary; it is in fact forced upon him by Emily, which results in making Craig appear less heroic in the eyes of the audience because he did not embark on this change himself.  Ultimately, “Aardvark” is a film in search of a protagonist it never quite finds.     

Following the screening was a question and answer session with writer/director Brian Shoaf.  Shoaf knows Quinto from their days studying acting in college; over the years, they attempted to work together, but it never worked out.  Eventually, Quinto formed a production company with a mutual friend of theirs and wound up making several films.  Later, Shoaf sent Quinto the screenplay for “Aardvark” through his agent and Quinto decided he wanted to play Josh so much he agreed to co-produce.  Through Quinto, they were able to add Hamm and Slate to the cast, which made funding easier. 

Aardvark (2017) on IMDb

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