Is it just me, or have independent movies become a joke? For every truly low budget interesting film, there are 50 with a legitimate budget, real actors, and a generic “quirky” plot that has become the blueprint for these kinds of movies. The Answer Man, a 2009 Sundance film from writer/director John Hindman, is not only one of these blueprint movies (with a horrible title, no less), it manages to be one of the most bland, boring films to come along in recent years.
The Answer Man stars Jeff Daniels as Arlen Faber, a reclusive author who’s book Me and God became a worldwide phenomenon 20 years ago. Faber never wrote another book, and spends his time living anonymously in Pennsylvania, living off the residuals and being a general grouch to everyone he meets.
One day, he throws out his back, which lands him in the office of single parent Elizabeth (Lauren Graham), a chiropractor who is overprotective of her son. They soon begin to fall for each other, as Faber attempts to not scare her away with his general annoyingness. Meanwhile, book store owner Kris (Lou Taylor Pucci), fresh from rehab, catches Faber trying to return books to his place. In exchange for books, Kris asks Faber to give him advice on life, one question for every five books. Through these two relationships, Faber learns to reconnect with the world and finally show his face to a public that has been
waiting with fervor for him to tell them what God has to say.
I don’t think I have been this bored by a movie since The OH in Ohio a few years back. The movie is awkwardly paced, and half-heartedly tries to be both a mainstream romantic comedy and a quirky indie film (examples: Arlen keeps a closet full of monster toys, Elizabeth straps her son into a car seat that looks like it was designed for a space shuttle, Kris accepts books for advice). Instead of succeeding on either end, it just makes for a painful experience.
Outside of Jeff Daniels, who kept me from shutting The Answer Man off with his portrayal of Arlen Faber, the acting was horrendous. Lauren Graham has no energy to her character, and it felt like I was watching a zombie meander across the screen. She has absolutely no chemistry with Daniels, which is bad if you are trying to make a romantic plot work. Lou Taylor Pucci comes off very annoying, and reads the dialogue like he’s in a middle school play. From the way he looked in the film, I can only surmise that Skeet Ulrich or Jared Leto turned down the role. Olivia Thirlby and Kat Dennings also show up, but in very do-nothing roles. Dennings in particular, as Kris’s co-worker Dahlia, does absolutely nothing to add to the story. She is just there to make random comments, laugh awkwardly, and then fade to the background when the real plot hits. Thirlby, as Elizabeth’s assistant Anne, gets a little more to do and is more a part of the movie, but if you cut her out, she would not be missed.
The Answer Man is a forgettable film that will be lucky to be liked by anyone. It’s boring, it’s cookie cutter, and it’s vanilla. Even Jeff Daniels cannot save the film. It is up on Netflix Watch Instantly, but if I were you, I wouldn’t bother… unless you have insomnia and the drugs aren’t helping.