A Short History of Decay puts its worst foot forward, as protagonist Nathan (Bryan Greenberg)’s girlfriend, Erika (Emmanuelle Chriqui), breaks up with him in shrill fashion in its opening scene.
Chriqui’s performance brings out the harpy in Erika, but the eventual fate of her character’s artistic ambitions leads one to suspect that the film itself is out to get her.
Fortunately, the story soon gets its bearings. A 35-year-old would-be writer with little to show for his efforts besides unfinished work on his hard drive and unsteady gigs proofreading ads, Nathan heads to Florida when his father (Harris Yulin) has a stroke.
To add to Nathan’s problems, his mother (Linda Lavin) suffers from Alzheimer’s. Fortunately, A Short History of Decay avoids the twin poles of films about old age: making illness look cute or pretending that life can’t go on while taking care of elderly parents. Even an odd digression about sibling rivalry, involving Nathan’s Fox News-loving lobbyist elder brother, works.
Nathan isn’t always likable, and to its credit, the film seems well aware of that fact. At times, director Michael Maren bites off more than he can chew. The widescreen frame largely captures unattractive domestic interiors. The film is full of clips from Hollywood classics and references to The Paris Review, Bookslut, David Foster Wallace, Michel Houellebecq, and the Angelika.
Even a scene where Nathan walks into a cafe and sees that every single table is filled by a writer with a laptop is populated by real authors. However, for the most part, A Short History of Decay triumphs over its pretensions.