From squinting distance, Entanglement may seem like run-of-the-mill quirky, twee Sundance fodder. Constructing a black comedy about suicidal urges that includes cutesy animation strewn about and a haphazard, slapdash romance tacked on, it’s got all of the usual markings. However, when you peel back a couple of layers and all of the pieces begin to fall into place, you’ll find a thoughtful, endearing portrayal of the disorienting uncertainty that so often comes packaged with depression.
After a series of failed suicide attempts, recently divorced Ben (Thomas Middleditch) embarks on a journey to find his place in the universe, latching onto the theory of quantum entanglement, the idea that people and events are intrinsically connected in ways that we often mistakenly view as being coincidence. Ben soon discovers that his parents adopted a daughter but were forced to forfeit the child when his mother found out that she was pregnant. When Ben tracks down his almost sister (Jess Weixler, The Good Wife), he finds a new companion, causing him to call upon visions of what might have been.
Anyone following Middleditch from his role on Silicon Valley is sure to be thrown for a loop by this film. While it certainly does have an active sense of humor, it is grounded in the realm of morbidity, often laughing at content others might find gruesome. From the opening sequence, suicide attempts are treated as punchlines, and adding levity to depression will undoubtedly turn off many viewers. When Ben’s therapist asks him if he likes himself, his response is “As a friend? A friend with benefits?” However, these moments are peppered in sparsely, and Jason Filiatrault’s script – along with Middleditch’s earnest performance – truly give these touches an honesty in the way they approach the subject of mental illness.
It is also Ben’s distressed state that gives Entanglement its more whimsical asides. Whether he is berating himself in the bathroom mirror (“You know this isn’t going to make you happy, right?”) or appreciating Disney-esque animated woodland creatures with his new partner in crime, it is clear that Ben’s grasp on reality is fleeting, making him an admittedly unreliable narrator. As the audience, we pick and choose which aspects of the film to take at face value, just as Ben does with his own life.
In its own warped way, Entanglement often takes comfort in the tropes of romantic comedies. From their first encounter, Ben and Hanna recognize that they are riding the same cosmic wavelength. Although they have conflicting views as to how they should handle their condition, they suffer from the same symptoms, plagued by the inability to accept the world in strictly rational terms. Middleditch’s neurotic, soft-spoken Ben and Weixler’s self-assured, freewheelin’ Hanna brew a palpable chemistry, with a nontraditional romance forming by a bluesy doo wop soundtrack.
Still, the true champion of the story is Diana Bang (The Interview) as Ben’s grounded, protective neighbor, Tabby. Commanding every moment she comes into view, Tabby witnessed the pure love Ben had for the woman who shattered his heart, and she has taken it upon herself to assume the role of his caretaker. Even as she watches Ben constantly make erratic leaps against his own best interest, she is there to be the unmoving voice of reason. While this could easily be a bland, forgettable role, Bang brings a level of nuance to the film that elevates that character far above how she must have appeared on paper.
Entanglement isn’t overly inventive, but it never claims to be. When the smoke clears and it has made its jabs at other films of its ilk, this is a charming, clever depiction of mental instability. Many viewers who have suffered from depression will find a respectful representation in Ben. When crafting a comedy that is born out of suicidal tendencies, you are walking a fine line. Entanglement mostly stays on the cognizant side of that tightrope.