John Leguizamo’s uneven body of film work has never been as satisfying as his stage monologues, the medium in which he seems the most comfortable in his own skin. Both of his career tracks are set in sharp relief in the not-terribly-awesome Fugly!, the life story of C-list actor Jesse (Leguizamo). Jesse’s YouTube video blog serves as the film’s framing device, through which he relates his biography and the rhythmic sine-wave of his romantic life, as he meets, loses, remeets, reloses, and regains Lara (Radha Mitchell), his soul mate or whatever.
It’s a comedy that’s so broad and cartoony that the occasional dramatic pivots seem diminished and ridiculous, like performing a soliloquy on a Chuck E. Cheese stage. The casting director has impeccable taste, which tends toward 1980s vintage cinema; in addition to Leguizamo, the film features Rosie Perez, Ally Sheedy, and Griffin Dunne.
The increasingly Alan Alda–resembling Dunne plays a middle-aged therapist, which is just about as perfect as Jack Nicholson playing the Joker, or Timothy Dalton playing a guy with a mustache. He’s a really convincing therapist! Leguizamo gets to kick around Manhattan in casual-forward Gap-wear, banter with pretty actresses, and do onstage monologues that are easily the best scenes, and the most natural, set as they are against the forced interactions among the cartoony characters.
Actual animated clips by Bill Plympton constitute another of the film’s creative fissures — they’re so infrequent that they seem like mistakes, or at least like a narrative gimmick the budget couldn’t fully accommodate.