Maturity is the final destination for the protagonist of “Full Grown Men,” a wanly likable road-trip comedy-drama about a young man’s Peter Pan-like refusal to let go of his childhood. A strong cast, beautiful production values and generally pleasant execution can’t disguise the fact both laughs and surprises are on the thin side here, despite the abundant care and affection lavished on the central characters by first-time writer-director David Munro. Genial pic is accessible enough to appeal to auds beyond festival and arthouse berths, but serious crossover prospects look doubtful.
Thesp Matt McGrath looks considerably younger than his 37 years, making him an appropriate choice to play thirtyish man-child Alby Cutrera. A husband and father who still sports a beach-bum haircut and a prize collection of classic action figures, Alby — his very name suggesting a state of arrested development — is the kind of guy who can’t take anything or anyone seriously.
After squabbling with his wife Suzanne (Katie Kreisler) while their son Josh (played by brothers Richard and Steven Lozano) looks on, Alby storms off, determined to leave adulthood behind him and head to the paradise of his youth, Diggityland (a thinly veiled reference to a certain real-life Florida-based theme park).
But first, he reunites with his childhood chum Elias Guber (Judah Friedlander), a bespectacled, overweight teddy-bear type who now works as a special-education instructor. The initially unspoken tension between the two friends — specifically, Elias’ wounds from constantly being made fun of by Alby as a kid — soon bubbles to the surface after the two set off toward Diggityland in Elias’ station wagon, whetting expectations for a “Sideways”-style humanistic odyssey.
Along the way, they encounter a host of colorful characters, including a screw-loose soldier (Alan Cumming, who co-produced), a bartender working toward becoming a professional clown (Amy Sedaris) and a woman whose beautifully decorated trailer home reflects a melancholy obsession with mermaids (Deborah Harry). Each is introduced to impart a subtle message to Alby about growing up.
Yet the actors are given too little screen time to leave anything more than a pleasing impression, and the overall effect is that of a series of interesting roadside sketches that, woven together, don’t add up to much. Similarly, Munro’s script (co-written by his wife, producer Xandra Castleton) is short on comic energy, especially given the familiarity of the scenario.
Friedlander, whose hysterical impersonation of uber-geek Toby Radloff was one of the highlights of “American Splendor,” offers a subtler characterization here as a lovable dweeb who, unlike his old friend, has made something out of his adult life. McGrath has a trickier time; the feckless Alby is at times quite off-putting, yet helmer Munro maintains the right distance, neither letting him off the hook nor punishing him too severely.
Tyke thesp Benjamin Karpf makes a winning debut in the potentially cloying role of one of Elias’ special-ed students.
Thanks to Frank G. DeMarco’s crystal-clear lensing, pic’s Florida locales have rarely looked better. Susan Block incorporates a wealth of eye-popping Americana in her colorful production design. Other visual elements, including an extensive array of drawings and photographs from Alby’s childhood, are meticulously rendered.