Review: ‘The Baxter’

Aggressively pushing the envelope of "loser comedy" -- i.e.  films whose fans would prefer to laugh at, rather than with, their stars -- Michael Showalter's "The Baxter" may find a following among those who stand in awe of the names Sandler, Ferrell and Spade.

Aggressively pushing the envelope of “loser comedy” — i.e.  films whose fans would prefer to laugh at, rather than with, their stars — Michael Showalter’s “The Baxter” may find a following among those who stand in awe of the names Sandler, Ferrell and Spade. But Showalter pushes too far: Nerdiness, after all, can be only so attractive.The title says it all: A “baxter,” according to Elliot Sherman’s grandmother, is the guy who never gets the girl, who either has soup spilled on him or spills the soup.

Her grandson (Showalter) might as well have “baxter” tattooed on his forehead. How Elliot finally gets the girl — or, rather, a girl — is the narrative objective of “The Baxter,” which wends its way awkwardly and embarrassingly through various humiliations and social faux pas before arriving at the door to love, whose hinges need oil.

Helmer Showalter bravely defies 5,000 years of theatrical tradition and tries to make the most physically unattractive and socially inept character in his movie the object of viewers’ affection. But Showalter ends up showing why such a tactic doesn’t work. And never did. Chaplin, Keaton, and even Arbuckle played characters who were economically or physically underprivileged, but they had the cleverness to surmount life’s obstacles, however briefly. When Woody Allen played a loser, he was always intellectually superior to those around him. There are bright spots in the film, notably Peter Dinklage, who is hilarious as a catty gay wedding planner, and Michelle Williams, whose Cecil Mills is charmingly awkward. One roots for Cecil, partly because there’s nobody else. But also because she’s adorable.

It was probably a mistake for Showalter to start the movie with a wedding and then flash back — eliminating anything unexpected. But “The Baxter” aspires to low-key, and it achieves that goal in spades.

The Baxter

Production

An IFC Films release and production in association with Plum Pictures. Produced by Daniela Taplin Lundberg, Galt Niederhoffer, Celine Rattray,Reagan Silber. Executive producers, Jonathan Sehring, Caroline Kaplan,Holly Becker. Co-producer, Jonathan Shoemaker. Directed, written by Michael Showalter.

Crew

Camera (color), Tim Orr; editors, Jacob Craycroft, Sarah Flack; music, Theodore Shapiro, Craig Wedren; music supervisor, Glen Caplin; production designer, Mark White; costume designers, Jill Kliber, Jill Newell; sound, Tom Paul, Eric Milano; casting, Susie Farris. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (Wide Angle), April 24, 2005. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 91 MIN.

With

Elliot Sherman - Michael Showalter Caroline Swann - Elizabeth Banks Cecil Mills - Michelle Williams Bradley Lake - Justin Theroux Wendall Wimms - Zak Orth Ed - Michael Ian Black Stella - Catherine Lloyd Burns Benson Hedges - Peter Dinklage Dan Abbott - Paul Rudd
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