What Max Landis' sexual orientation-bending directorial debut lacks in style, it makes up for in self-absorption.
There’s entirely too much “Me” in “Me Him Her,” an abrasively un-romantic non-comedy that second-generation Hollywood screenwriter Max Landis (best known for “Chronicle” and “American Ultra,” but invariably judged by his last name) claims was so personal, he simply had to direct it himself. Though the title makes Landis’ Los Angeles-set debut out to be some kind of stock love triangle, its interpersonal geometry proves to be infinitely more complicated, centering on a narcissist with no clue how to handle either his gay best friend or the lesbian he thinks he’s in love with, building up to (what else?) an epic sword fight at a chic Hollywood after-party.
Like Landis’ more commercial-minded scripts, “Me Him Her” displays a downright incongruous mix of sincerity and sarcasm: A child of the VCR generation, Landis uses crazily unrealistic, movie-recycled plots as a pretext for telling it like it is (or at least, as he believes life to be), chocolate-dunking and then candy-coating astute little observational razor blades with borderline-inane, sitcom-stale cliches. Here, he offers a glimpse behind the scenes of Hollywood, serving up such personalities as a wannabe actress who rehearses her breakup speech in advance and a shallow B-list celeb grappling with how to come out.
It’s hard to take such characters seriously, compounded by the fact that Landis puts his eponymous “Me,” a wacky colorful-shirt-wearing loudmouth named Cory (Dustin Milligan), on the toilet when his old college buddy — and rising TV star — Brendan (Luke Bracey) calls to share the news that he’s gay. Shot differently, the inappropriate setting might have earned a laugh instead of a wince, but Landis consistently struggles to make his (admittedly) funny ideas land, botching the timing and/or placement of gags throughout, from the random collection of L.A. vignettes that background the opening credits to the sequence of sketches crammed into the final crawl.
At any rate, Brendan is distressed. The new season of his “Hard Justice” cop show is about to air, and he’s being positioned as the “straight arrow” opposite Haley Joel Osment’s “twisted mind” (a label that evidently applies both on screen and off, judging by a self-effacing cameo that milks the former child star’s participation for every drop). He’s pretty sure he’s gay based on — wait for it — the fact that a publicist for the show smooched him on set. Meanwhile, everyone else (including missed-opportunity screen parents Scott Bakula and Geena Davis) seems to know. “Why didn’t you tell me?” Brendan objects in a running joke that, par for the course, wasn’t funny the first time.
In this day and age, when celebs are outed for picking up transgender prostitutes along Santa Monica Boulevard (spinnable) or selling their services while dressed in stilettos (a bit trickier to explain), Brendan’s dilemma seems downright quaint. If there really were a Hollywood actor so naive about his own orientation today, he wouldn’t have to settle for second billing to Osment, but could get his own reality series. But never mind. Since Brendan evidently has no friends in L.A., he offers to fly Cory out to counsel his coming out.
The plan backfires big-time when Cory insists that Brendan go to the nearest gay bar and assume his identity. Once there, Cory ditches his friend and proceeds to hit on the nearest lesbian, the freshly dumped and therefore ultra-vulnerable Gabbi (Emily Meade). While the paparazzi mob Brendan, Cory tries to put the moves on Gabbi, making sweet, sweet love in the back of her Geo Metro. Rather than apologize, he steers Brendan into the center of a West Hollywood pride parade.
To those who might object that Landis doesn’t understand lesbians, the filmmaker would surely argue that lesbians (and indeed, all humans) don’t understand themselves. Depicting the subject of sexual orientation with a fluidity rarely seen since “Gigli,” “Me Him Her” is to be commended for recognizing that such identities can’t always be reduced to binary labels. But it’s one thing to present characters who question their own identities, and quite another to ask that audiences identify with the goofy straight guy who hopes to lure a lesbian to his team.
A decade earlier, such a project would have been pegged a “gay film,” touring LGBTQ festivals before being distributed by TLA or Wolfe Video, and though such categories have relaxed somewhat, this essentially straight-to-VOD release (twinned with tiny New York and L.A. openings) remains strictly niche. Its greatest asset is the against-type casting of “90210” pretty boy Milligan, playing some cross between Landis and wild-and-crazy comedian T.J. Miller — both unfiltered, high-energy dudes with disruptive personalities. A mopey doll-faced blonde who barely enunciates her dialogue, Meade is a pleasantly non-obvious choice for the role of Gabbi (while Alia Shawkat and Rebecca Drysdale play the cliche more clearly as her Sapphic gal pals).
At first, Brendan appears to be the film’s biggest egoist, assuming that by paying Cory’s airfare, he could count on his friend to re-engineer his persona. But as Cory proceeds to monopolize the film, Brendan edges to the margins, and Landis’ manufactured absurdity becomes increasingly difficult to endure — around the time Gabbi hallucinates being attacked by a giant penis. “This is Los Angeles. The line between dreams and reality is thinner here,” Brendan explains at one point, but it’s not enough to justify the hallucinatory flourishes, much less the tone of oppressive self-absorption. By the time the film’s climactic sword fight erupts, “Me Him Her” might is starting to sound too much like “Me Me Me.”