By Chuck Wilson
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Amy Nicholson
By Carolina Del Busto
By Stephanie Zacharek
By Michael Atkinson
By Calum Marsh
Here's something you don't generally want to do when dealing with an actor as good as Brian Cox: begin the movie after his character has already died.
That's where we start in Blumenthal, writer-director Seth Fisher's feature debut, and while the film isn't without merit — Fisher's clearly a gifted writer of comedy — the death of Harold Blumenthal (Cox) proves a frustrating narrative catalyst, since Cox's performance (seen in a tribute interview on TV) suggests more inner life than all the rest of the characters combined.
Fisher uses the passing of Harold, a celebrated, award-winning New York playwright, to offer a multi-generational study of the surviving members of the Blumenthal family: drug-rep Ethan (played by Fisher), who peddles birth control and hormone replacements and who is going through a rough patch with his acupuncturist girlfriend (Mei Melançon); Cheryl (Laila Robins), an aging actress trying to overcome her appearance-related anxieties to perform well in an upcoming audition; and Harold's brother, the constipated Saul (Mark Blum), who harbors a belief that Harold plagiarized his memoirs to find material for his plays.
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As he's a multi-hyphenate working in such a neurotic, Jewish-specific realm of comedy, Fisher's efforts feel reminiscent of early Woody Allen, and he creates a number of supporting characters — a peculiar dog walker (Kevin Isola), a jellybean-chewing agent named Jimmy Basmati (A Serious Man's Fred Melamed) — that offer a farcical energy.
But Fisher's filmmaking, aside from a couple scenes between Ethan and his best friend (Alexander Cendese) that are nicely composed in long-take two-shots, is too consistently flat to make the material spark. His fast dialogue, however, is so frequently funny that he might not want to rule out a career in Harold Blumenthal's own medium.
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