Any similarities to “Harold and Maude” are strictly intentional in “Max & Grace,” a would-be black comedy that is neither funny nor genuinely macabre. Main plus is suggestion that young character thesp David Krumholtz can hold the screen on his own. And he pretty much has to, given Natasha Lyonne’s strangely fashioned perf as his love interest and fellow loony-bin escapee. Pic is too scattershot and clunky to stand much chance on the open market, but it could gain some cult status on home-vid.
Krumholtz’s Harold-like Max is a bipolar kind of guy who has always dabbled in suicide. This culminates during his 21st-birthday party, when he both hangs and stabs himself. This occasions a hasty trip to the loony bin, and treatment by the unorthodox, unnamed doctor played by Tim Blake Nelson — who also shows up, for some reason, as a preacher, an Indian shaman, and a motivation speaker.
At the loony bin, Max meets Lyonne’s Grace, who has been trying to off herself, apparently, ever since an untimely abortion. Her ever-present teddy bear is almost more expressive than the near-catatonic patient, although she does come to noisy life once Max climbs into bed with her.
Mistaking lust for love, he decides to marry her to the varied amusement of other patients, including Guillermo Diaz as a nervous wise guy and Ralf Moeller’s frightened giant. Rosanna Arquette is also on hand as a woman fueled by anger at her ex-husband, although why that qualifies her for asylum status is never explained.
The characterization of Max’s parents, played in short segs by David Paymer and Lorraine Bracco, is likewise baffling. Their scenes are further confused by Max’s fantasy views of them, intercut with what viewers see. This at least allows the chance for some surprising f/x work.
Puffy and vacant-eyed behind muumuus and dangling ringlets of hair, Lyonne never becomes present enough to inform the character beyond her obvious nut-job credentials. (The fact that she and Krumholtz played bickering siblings in “The Slums of Beverly Hills” doesn’t exactly aid their chemistry here.) Karen Black turns up as Grace’s delusional mother.
It’s never clear what Nelson is doing in all those other roles. Emma Adele Galvin makes a strong impression, however, in her few scenes as Max’s Goth-minded sister.
Debut pic from helmer-scripter Michael Parness, a Wall Street trader who also pens plays, doesn’t work as satire or social study, although lenser Horacio Marquinez does do a colorful job in cramped quarters and oddball New York State locations. Music cues, of the alt-strumming sort, are mostly predictable but rarely maudlin.