In a conversation about Clerks II, a friend of mine remarked that he found it far too melancholy to function as a comedy. I have to wonder what he would make of Lurking in Suburbia, as morose a comedy as any I've seen in some time. I'm not averse to the picture that writer/director Mitchell Altieri has painted, but his lead character's unshakably downcast attitude dampens Altieri's good intentions.
And why is Conrad (Joe Egender) so downcast? As the film starts, he's waking, staring at a ceiling fan and coming to terms with the fact that he turns 30 today. As a natural-born slacker, Conrad ('Connie' to his friends) hasn't done much with his life thus far, and the sense of disaccomplishment has finally caught up with him. It's a midlife crisis pre-midlife, and Connie's not quite sure what to do or where to go next. I can sympathize with this, and to Egender's credit, his portrayal of Connie's adrift despair is keenly observed.
The trouble with Altieri's screenplay is that perhaps he observes Connie's despair too keenly. Lurking in Suburbia begins well (literally, with a shot lifted from the opening of Apocalypse Now). As Connie gradually introduces the audience to the world in which he lives and the friends he has, Altieri is careful to keep the humor and the hangdog in balance. The humor is rueful but generally effective in these opening scenes; the film's funniest and most cutting moment comes early on, when an arranged hook-up for Connie turns sour after the bubbly young blonde at his side says, "You went to high school with my mom."
As Connie sinks further into his blackened mood, though, Altieri's finesse dries up. The bulk of Lurking in Suburbia takes place at a party that is being thrown for Connie, and the celebratory shenanigans are meant to contrast with the deepening depression of the lead. Therein lies the flaw, though: By setting the two moods against each other, Altieri sacrifices the accomplished tonal meshing that he had earlier achieved. Connie's melancholy, allowed to run unchecked, shades over into self-pity, and thus we get insufferable scenes like the one where he rejects a stripper's sexual advances; meanwhile, the cutesy asides and drunken laff material gets defeated by the leaden serious parts.