At first blush, Bob Byington’s Somebody Up There Likes Me goes down like early Wes Anderson: tableaux that pass for scenes, a delicate pointillism in the soundtrack, and a shot at redemption among characters suffering from the unbearable rudderlessness of twee. The plot is fairly Andersonian, too, following the tragically impassive Max (Keith Poulson) as he lapses from one picturesque and well-scored marriage to another over the course of 25 years. The only fixture in Max’s life is Sal (Nick Offerman, of Parks & Recreation immortality), a bearded would-be sage who serves alongside Max as a waiter at a steak house. Intermittent animations that recall Richard Linklater’s Waking Life demarcate the five-year increments by which Byington works his time-lapse magic. A magical-realist prop plays a passing role in the film—it’s a powder-blue suitcase that Max inherits from his father, and which emits an ethereal and mysterious cloud of light each time Max opens it. That nourishing glow may explain why Byington doesn’t make any effort to age his characters (with two notable exceptions). The whole thing comes off as a fairy tale bordering on hallucination, perhaps the vision of life that passes before the eyes at death. Byington’s is a very 21st-century aesthetic, derived alternatively from mumblecore and from the fixed-camera rhythm of the short-form webisode. It bears saying: Everyone here does horrible things. But each character’s terribleness is like a footnote, accessory, or abstraction, and the film itself is so charming that you almost forget to ask whether these people truly deserve our empathy. And hey—so was Rushmore.
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