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Sundance Film Review: ‘Joshy’

Writer-director Jeff Baena's second feature hangs loose at a weekend-long bachelor party.

Thomas Middleditch, Adam Pally, Alex Ross Perry, Nick Kroll, Brett Gelman, Jenny Slate, Lauren Graham, Aubrey Plaza, Lauren Weedman, Paul Reiser, Lisa Edelstein, Alison Brie, Joe Swanberg, Kris Swanberg, Jude Swanberg, Jake Johnson, Frankie Shaw, Jessica Varley, Paul Weitz.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4661798/

One of the saddest comedies ever made about boys behaving badly at a bachelor party, “Joshy” offers a strange mix of elements that never quite add up. Boasting a hodgepodge of strong comic voices riffing their way through underdeveloped characters, writer-director Jeff Baena’s second feature after the under-appreciated zombie romantic comedy “Life After Beth” is an altogether looser affair, but rarely to its benefit. The name cast guarantees ancillary interest, though theatrical life should be even briefer than “Beth’s.”

It’s certainly unusual to begin your comedy with a suicide, but that’s what happens when the nondescript title character (played by “Silicon Valley’s” charming Thomas Middleditch) comes home to discover his fiancee, Rachel (Alison Brie), has hung herself. On his birthday, no less. After that unsettling opening, the film quickly shifts focus to Josh’s pot-smoking buddy Ari (Adam Pally), the married father of a newborn baby who dominates the early going.

Ari discovers that the deposit he put down on a house in Ojai for Josh’s bachelor party is non-refundable, and so four months after the tragic event that no one wants to bring up, Josh, Ari, nerdy Adam (Alex Ross Perry) and raunchy Eric (Nick Kroll) converge in Ojai for a wild weekend. They’re soon joined by Eric’s partner-in-crime Greg (Brett Gelman) and occasionally by Jodi (Jenny Slate), the free-spirited woman who Ari picks up in a local bar.

Booze, pot and cocaine flow plentifully as the gang lounges around, soaking in hot tubs and playing an assortment of games — though they do their best to avoid the “Dungeons & Dragons”-style role-playing game that Adam brought to share. The slender plot makes “Joshy” essentially just a hangout movie, made sporadically enjoyable by the largely improvised dialogue of the cast. If there’s an unofficial competition among the ensemble, Kroll scores the most direct laughs, while indie filmmaker Perry steals the most scenes.

It never makes much sense that Jodi would agree to hang with this particular group of guys, but Slate injects a much-needed female energy that helps distract from the nonsensical romance she engages in with Ari. Aubrey Plaza and Lauren Weedman are similarly welcome in small roles as an angry paramour of Adam’s and an easygoing escort, respectively, while the entire Swanberg filmmaking family — Joe, Kris and toddler Jude — drop in and out halfway through for reasons unknown. The film hits its peak of inexplicable happenings when Rachel’s parents (Paul Reiser and Lisa Edelstein) show up at the house to accuse Josh of murdering their daughter and in the process unlock his bottled-up emotions.

Shot on a shoestring over a two-week period, “Joshy” has the feel of an experiment that Baena needed to get out of his system after the far more ambitious “Life After Beth,” but time will tell which direction his career takes. Tech credits are modest, highlighted by a rare original score from indie folk artist Devendra Banhart — though that coup is nearly lost among an over-abundance of licensed songs.

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Sundance Film Review: 'Joshy'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 24, 2016. Running time: 93 MIN.

Production: A StarStream Media presentation of a Destro Films and American Zoetrope production in association with Bow and Arrow Entertainment. (International sales: WME, Los Angeles.) Produced by Adam Pally, Liz Destro, Michael Zakin. Executive producers, Charles Bonan, Kim Leadford, Daniel McCarney, Matthew Perniciaro, Michael Sherman. Co-­producers, Josh Bachove, Tracey Landon, Daniel McGilvray.

Crew: Directed, written by Jeff Baena. Camera (color, HD), Patrice Lucien Cochet; editor, Ryan Brown; music, Devendra Banhart; music supervisor, Chris Swanson; production designer, Almitra Corey; costume designer, Mollie Gate; sound, Amanda Beggs; supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer, Erik Foreman; visual effects, Secret Weapon VFX; associate producers, Michael Ferraro, Sean Maurer, Sean Monahan, Peter Pietrangeli, Lauren Russell, Kindred Sparks; assistant director, Tracey Landon.

With: Thomas Middleditch, Adam Pally, Alex Ross Perry, Nick Kroll, Brett Gelman, Jenny Slate, Lauren Graham, Aubrey Plaza, Lauren Weedman, Paul Reiser, Lisa Edelstein, Alison Brie, Joe Swanberg, Kris Swanberg, Jude Swanberg, Jake Johnson, Frankie Shaw, Jessica Varley, Paul Weitz.

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