Starring the typically delightful Jenny Slate, Zachary Quinto and John Hamm, Aardvark, directed by Brian Shoaf completely squanders their collective talents with a astoundingly dumb film. Despite any hints of chemistry between Slate and Hamm and and a particularly winsome turn from the latter, very little is able to save the film from its loose plotting, complete aversion to real, concrete character development and a distracting inconsistent tone.
Plainly speaking, Aardvark doesn’t know what the hell type of film it’s trying to be.
Plenty of films (particularly the festival indies) rely on the ability to meld drama and humor. The sad comedy is such a staple these days that it’s become expected to see your favorite comedic actor turn up looking dour and gray (and if a dude, likely bearded) on a movie poster. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this model (and shows such as Bojack Horseman, Please Like Me and You’re the Worst have thrived on it) but if the team of artists behind the film can’t manage to blend the genres then they should’ve simply stuck to just the one. Shoaf’s fim delivers some mighty tonal whiplash, apparently allergic to the notion of keeping the story and atmosphere consistent.
The film follows Josh Norman (a buried in bangs Quinto), an emotionally suffering introvert who has recently reached out to Emily Milburton (Slate), a social worker looking to help Norman with his delusions. The biggest hurdle he’s facing is his estranged relationship with his brother, Craig (Hamm), a famous television actor who, on his return to town, strikes up a relationship with Emily who has become further entangled in the Norman family mystery. As Josh continues down his slippery slope of mental stability, believing that he’s seeing his brother everywhere from a local police officer, to a homeless woman to perhaps a woman he’s become infatuated with, Emily looses focus with Craig and the latter, the seemingly most pulled together, just tries to figure out what the hell is going on.
You and I both Craig.
First time Shoaf clearly has some big ideas that he wants to discuss and his want to present mental illness onscreen is admirable until it absolutely isn’t and it turns into a plot device to further move Emily and Craig into frame. On top of he tonal inconsistencies the script (also by Shoaf) completely looses itself as well when it drops plot points and character beats made earlier in the film. Josh’s characterization is particularly grating as he going from having an inability to function throughout his day in one breath to cracking jokes and being highly perceptive in the next. So much of the film is spent dancing around his mental illness that it comes to a point where it begins to feel as if it’s a secondary character quirk rather than what the film wanted to be explored.
Again, this isn’t terrible inherently and it would be nice to see mental illness be portrayed more realistically onscreen with characters who live with it but aren’t defined by it but that clearly isn’t Aardvarks point of view. They wanted the film to be about a potentially crippling mental illness-they just went about it sloppily.
At the very least the film offers up a delightful turn for Hamm who should be used in this capacity more often, rather than going to extremes of either comic doofus or smarmy ladies man. Despite holding the least amount of screen time his is the character the most instantly engaging.
Quinto and Slate are fine as well, with some disarmingly sweet scenes by the end but their relationship never feels earned so we’re kept waiting to see if anything is going to come from the lead up. A hit and a miss, unfortunately. If you need you Jenny Slate fill, why not re-watch Obvious Child again?
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