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