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The Baxter (8/10)

by Tony Medley

Last week I saw a dispiriting movie, called “40-year-old virgin.” It epitomized what’s happened to the motion picture industry. Intended as a screwball comedy, it instead was a profane picture elevating grossness to comedy a la “There’s Something About Mary” (1998). Occasionally funny, mostly just offensive as a result of using humor based on poor taste as shock value.

The Baxter is what ‘Virgin could have been had it been made with taste, humor, and class. This is a comedy in homage to old Hollywood values. It is not gross. It is intelligent, tender, touching, and funny, all values that are sorely lacking in ‘Virgin. As a result, most critics are certain to trash it.

Elliot Sherman (writer-director Michael Showalter) is the Baxter, the nice guy who never asked the girl to dance. This is the flip side of “The Graduate” (1967). What happened to the guy Katherine Ross ditched at the altar for Dustin Hoffman? He’s the Baxter and he’s Elliot. Elliot meets Caroline Swann (Elizabeth Banks) just after he meets Cecil Mills (Michelle Williams). He thinks Caroline is the girl of his dreams, but we all know that it’s really Cecil.  He and Cecil have a lot in common. All he has in common with Caroline is that they both went to Dartmouth, but, then, she’s beautiful, so he forsakes nerdish Cecil and pursues Caroline.

Dustin Hoffman’s role is named Bradley Lake and is played by Justin Theroux. Bradley is a hunk. He shows up just before Elliot and Caroline are to be wed and throws a monkey wrench into the equation. Theroux gives a brilliantly comedic performance as the manipulative Bradley. Peter Dinklage adds a clever turn as Benson Hedges, the wedding planner for Caroline and Elliot.

The movie starts with Elliot and Caroline at the altar when Bradley barges into the church, disheveled and lovesick, just as Dustin Hoffman did in “The Graduate.” Then we are thrust into a flashback to tell the story of how we got there. It’s a 21st Century take on the screwball comedies of the 30s-40s.

This is a charming, clever, humorous, touching, intelligent comedy.

August 27, 2005