A Midwestern mix of “Clerks” and “Chuck and Buck,” indie feature “Living in Missouri” — title pun definitely intended — ekes surprising depth from what looks at first glance like just another arch examination of some losers’ lives in suburbia. Possibly too low-key to attract arthouse distribs, pic is a strong fest item that bodes well for the careers of director Shaun Peterson, scenarist Connor Ratliff and principal thesps.
Best friends since junior high, Ryan (Ratliff) and Todd (Ian McConnel) have reached their 30s with perilously little personal change to show for it. The more domineering Ryan does have an enviable wife, part-time hospital worker Amy (Christina Puzzo), and two small children; but his neglect of all three is beginning to strike her as a serious problem. A goof-off at work — something his corporate bosses have duly noted — he prefers spending his free time going to movies with hopeless bachelor Todd, surfing the Internet or pouring over his all-important “Star Wars” memorabilia collection.
Rotund, bespectacled, passive Todd still lives at home with his aging parents, employed in a dead-end vidstore clerk job.
Having nothing better to do, he lets Ryan determine his almost nonexistent social life. But Todd is acutely aware they’re both frittering away their days — and that Ryan is wrecking a very good thing with the smart, capable, loyal Amy.
When discovery of his petty office-supply thefts proves the last straw for exasperated supervisors, Ryan doesn’t tell Amy he’s jobless. Instead, he merely settles down to full-time TV watching and junk-food eating, making himself scarce when the spouse is at home. Meanwhile, she’s begun spilling her frustrations out to Todd during daily lunch dates, little realizing how vulnerable his own emotions are. This dysfunctional triangle comes apart when Amy discovers hubby’s ruse, leading to a confrontation between the two men that — disturbingly — leaves their stalled-adolescent “marriage” more calcified than ever, this time probably for keeps.
The “misery” implied by title is for a long time conveyed in tones of understated absurdism, with deadpan support perfs and droll situations deftly suggesting Ryan and Todd constitute an exclusive club no one else could possibly want to join. Brief collegiate flashback segs and briefer-still fantasy bits provide variety within narrow story focus, as do segs featuring Ryan’s Uncle Roy (Holmes Osborne), a gleefully cracked Vietnam vet who never seems to leave his basement. (His proffered solution to the nephew’s marital complaints is that they both purchase Third World brides over the Web.)
But there’s a queasy undertow to all comedy that takes over final reel, when characters’ full pathos is revealed and fate maroons them with an existential shudder.
Dogma-like package nicely conveys sense of slow suffocation, with banal living rooms, Wal-Marts and other found locations used to good effect. Tech aspects are modest, almost raw, but canny. Very little music is used until late deployment of a Radiohead song. Most potent contribs are made by principal actors, who (with Puzzo as the exasperated “straight man”) all manage to make immaturity and haplessness complex as well as funny.