Transporting a brand of lower-middle class Jewish comedy — that’s perhaps more germane to New York — to the Washington, D.C., suburbs, Columbia film grad Adam Yaffe’s “Book of Danny” amusingly chronicles the perils faced by a teenage weedhead when he goes to live with his estranged father. Limited by its brief running time to probable cable dates, this rough-edged but likable medium-length feature occasionally has a sitcom feel but gets by on the writer-director’s idiosyncratic sense of humor and capable scripting skills.
Danny (Daniel Randell) is an uncontrollable embarrassment to his mother (Marcia Jean Kurtz). He gets expelled from school, moons spectators at a soccer match and, during a Parents Without Partners mixer, gets stoned and makes out with an eligible congressman’s daughter.
To give him structure and give his mother a break, Danny is sent to live with his unreliable father Harry (Larry Block), a grand-schemer with a series of bad debts and failed enterprises behind him. Inept shyster Harry attempts to instill entrepreneurial instincts in Danny by enlisting his fund-raising help for a leather manufacturing business.
Despite clashing with his stepmother (Elaina Erika Davis), Danny tries to build the kind of father-son bond he recalls wistfully from early childhood by plunging enthusiastically into the enterprise. But the boy’s eyes are opened to his father’s failings when the scheme is revealed to hinge upon unlikely political favors.
Yaffe’s film has a loose, freewheeling spirit, both in the shooting style and narrative approach, and a genuine affection for the characters, through even their most undignified behavior. Action is humorously punctuated with B&W footage of salesmanship training films or cowboys and cattle runs to suggest the wild, outlaw aspect of Harry’s leather goods scheme.
Despite the light touch that dominates, there’s a melancholy undertone to the depiction of a dysfunctional family and of a teen searching for his course in life and looking to the wrong person as a guide. The latter aspect is warmly resolved as Danny acquires unexpected direction from the experience. Engaging cast plays it fairly broad and shticky, with newcomer Randell striking an appealing balance between an indifferent slacker and a needy kid reaching out.