Thursday, July 08, 2010
If you haven't got two bits...
By Edward Copeland
Between the time he left Seinfeld and before he began work on the brilliant Curb Your Enthusiasm for HBO, Larry David made his feature writing-directing debut in 1998 — and it sank like a stone, both critically and at the box office. It even became a running gag in the early days of Curb. It took me a long time to catch up with Sour Grapes, but with 90 minutes to kill and its availability on Netflix's instant watch program, I finally saw it.
Sour Grapes didn't turn out to be awful and it definitely contains the trademark type of humor you'd expect would come from the mind of Larry David, it's just that it needed a more manic pacing and better casting to make this farce come off. We know that David's writing can be gut-busting brilliant, but on the basis of this film, his directing skills need some work and come off sluggish.
Steven Weber and Craig Bierko star as Richard and Evan Maxwell, close cousins with a brother-like relationship. Richard is a successful neurologist while Evan makes a living designing the soles for tennis shoes. The cousins' lifelong closeness gets put to the test when the pair visit Atlantic City with their girlfriends.
Waiting for the women to return from the powder room to go to a show and down on their cash, the two spend their last bit of change on some progressive slot machines. Richard points out that playing one quarter is pointless — you need to put all three in for the jackpot. When Evan gets down to a single quarter, he asks Richard for two quarters and his cousin complies with his last two coins and, of course, Evan hits the jackpot for more than $400,000.
Anyone familiar with David's love of society's written and unwritten rules of etiquette can probably predict the chaos that will evolve out of this event and it does and there would be a lot of potential in Sour Grapes if it were just played at a quicker pace or at least one that keeps accelerating as events spin further and further out of control. You can hear the typical David lines that would guarantee hearty laughs in the right hands, but Weber is too subdued and Bierko goes a bit over the top, so not only do their deliveries not feel right, they lack comic chemistry.
That isn't to say there aren't some hearty laughs to be found in Sour Grapes, because there certainly are. One of my favorites involves a patient of Richard's who is an actor on a Friends-like comedy. A sequence spoofing the opening credits of Friends for the movie's fake TV show is spot-on, hilarious satire.
The actors who work best with David's material in the movie are Robyn Peterman as Evan's girlfriend, Orlando Jones as a homeless man and, in a single scene, Philip Baker Hall who has appeared on Curb a few times as Larry's doctor, as Evan's boss.
Larry David fans might find Sour Grapes fascinating in an almost anthropological way, but as a stand-alone movie, it just doesn't quite cut it.