After honing his sour, smarter-than-thou persona on HBO’s Girls, Alex Karpovsky translates the mix of repression, condescension, and bluntness he’s now associated with to a Midwestern male context.
Karpovsky doesn’t get to show much range in writer-director Stephen Gurewitz’s timid, overly sparse father-sons road trip movie, Marvin Seth and Stanley. But as firstborn Seth, he’s certainly playing the film’s only halfway-developed character. Irritable Seth and his needy younger brother, Stanley (Stephen Gurewitz), return home to suburban Minnesota to spend time with their elderly father, Marvin (first-time actor Marvin Gurewitz). After Seth foils a would-be surprise trip to Red Lobster — “it’s a crappy corporate chain!” he petulantly protests in the car — they resume avoiding each other.
Back at home, Seth attempts to play big brother by sharing some “Chinese wisdom” with Stanley: Forcing yourself to smile will trick your brain into releasing the neurochemicals associated with happiness. Finally, the trio decide to go camping, and the uneventful, largely silent car rides to and from the mountains comprise most of the film’s running time.
Marvin Seth and Stanley is an immersive experience, thrusting viewers into the stifled but restless tedium of the characters’ stoic family dynamic. As expected, there is a third-act secret to be revealed, but it has all the power of a wave, dissolving as quickly as it appears.
Shot in ’70s naturalism, the film’s cinematography only invites unfavorable comparisons to the more ambitious, psychologically searching interpersonal dramas of that era.