Director-Star Noël Wells’s Charisma and Humor Lift “Mr. Roosevelt”

A struggling comic tries to deal with grief, winds up dealing with her dim-bulb ex


Mr. Roosevelt is the breeziest movie centered on the death of a cat you’ll see all year. This comedy — written by, directed by, and starring Saturday Night Live alum Noël Wells — has many of the trappings of indie cutesyness but doesn’t fully succumb to them. Emily (Wells), a struggling comedian (is there any other kind?) in Los Angeles, goes back to Austin, Texas, after the death of her beloved cat, Mr. Roosevelt. Complications arise, as Mr. Roosevelt has been in the custody of Emily’s blandly likable ex Eric (Nick Thune) and, wouldn’t you know it, he has a new girlfriend, Celeste (Britt Lower), who seems plucked from a perfectly curated Instagram account. Much of the comedy comes from the uneasy interactions between Emily and Celeste (at a fancy restaurant, Emily shoves bread in her mouth while Celeste claims gluten intolerance in super-millennial fashion). But the setup, with Emily staying at Celeste and Eric’s house — the house she used to live in, no less — is too broad.

It’s farfetched that Celeste and Eric would let Emily stay with them in the first place, and even more so that they wouldn’t register her understandable discomfort immediately. But Wells is so charismatic a performer that the film only turns grating during a dramatic blowout near the end. She’s not afraid to look silly or, in a few key moments, deranged, and her directorial style is unshowy but charming. In the opening scene, Wells, in a meta Annie Hall–esque flourish, speaks directly to the camera about comedy, and she shoots on film, giving the proceedings a sunny and soft appearance. Mr. Roosevelt may be slight, but it’s buoyed by Wells’s self-deprecating humor.

Mr. Roosevelt
Written and directed by Noël Wells
Opens November 22, Landmark Sunshine Cinema