×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Mr. Roosevelt’

'SNL' alum Noël Wells' directorial debut is a SXSW standout.

With:
Noël Wells, Nick Thune, Britt Lower, Daniella Pineda, Andre Hyland, Doug Benson, Armen Weitzman, Sergio Cilli

“Mr. Roosevelt” is the debut film by writer-director Noël Wells, a Texas native who decamped for Los Angeles to become a comic. It also features Wells in the lead role, as a Texas native who decamped for Los Angeles to become a comic, only to make an abrupt return to attend a cat funeral at the home of her ex-boyfriend, and perhaps take stock of the shambling mess she’s made of her life amidst Austin’s remaining pockets of weirdness. If you’re already starting to roll your eyes, stop: This riotously endearing comedy is substantially funnier, sharper, and more peculiar than that premise is bound to make it sound. While its knowing touch for the rhythms of Austin life make it a perfect fit for SXSW, the film has potential to travel much further, and announces Wells as a behind-the-camera talent worth watching.

A veteran of L.A.’s improv scene, Wells had a single-season run on “Saturday Night Live” before landing her recent role on “Master of None,” and the former experience certainly seems to inform “Mr. Roosevelt’s” opening scene, as Wells’ fictional counterpart Emily soldiers through a failed audition for a sketch-comedy show. (Kristen Wiig is among Emily’s celebrity impressions, though it’s her take on Holly Hunter haggling at a yard sale that really should have gotten her a callback.)

All she has to show for her time in Hollywood is one viral video that she “wasn’t able to monetize”; she’s barely making ends meet as a promotional video editor; and the improv comedy dating pool is proving somewhat suboptimal. So when she receives a call from her ex, Eric (Nick Thune), with news that their once-shared cat is sick, she doesn’t hesitate to hop on a plane to Texas with little but the clothes on her back.

Back home, she learns that the cat has already died, and Eric – whom she had just assumed would let her stay at his place – is happily cohabiting with his new, perfectly poised girlfriend, Celeste (Britt Lower), to whom Emily takes an immediate dislike. After all, she’s completely redecorated the place, relegating all of Emily’s leftover possessions to a shed out back. Pleading poverty, however, Emily gets the couple to put her up for a few days.

Although she’s only been gone for two years, Emily finds her former home city has been gentrified just as strikingly as her former home. Her favorite dingy coffee shop has been boarded up, and the new one nearby is a modernist maze of antiseptic steel. Eric has embraced a thoroughly L.A. set of voluntary dietary restrictions, and Celeste lists her occupation as “entrepreneur.” The two take Emily out to the kind of restaurant that actually requires nicer attire than t-shirts and jeans, and it isn’t long before she has a tableside meltdown.

Quickly coming to Emily’s rescue is a firecracker waitress-musician named Jen (Daniella Pineda), who recognizes her from her fleeting bout of YouTube stardom. After employing some tough love methods to staunch her panic attacks, Jen becomes Emily’s new best friend literally overnight, and ferries her around from overcrowded artist co-ops to topless Greenbelt picnics and musical house parties. Meanwhile, Celeste mounts an ever-escalating Cold War with her predecessor, and Eric and Emily spend enough time together to risk rekindling their old flame.

Nothing here, from the premise to the plotting to the basic tone, is particularly novel, but the entire affair has a distinctive personality. Wells has a clear gift for physical comedy, and as a director, she tends to underplay her funniest bits in a way that gives the film an engaging, lackadaisical flow, rather than fragmenting into a series of sketches. That distinctiveness extends to her character too – the hapless twentysomething woman-child has become almost as well-worn a type as its male equivalent, but Emily feels like an original creation within those broad parameters.

“Mr. Roosevelt” does occasionally reveal a few first-time filmmaker kinks, and in the later-going Wells forces closure on some narrative arcs that could have just as well stayed open-ended. But never does the film’s comic energy wane, and the supporting cast is highlighted by Lower, Pineda, and a scene-stealing turn from Andre Hyland, whose puckish stoner may be too laid-back even for Austin.

 

Film Review: 'Mr. Roosevelt'

Reviewed at SXSW, March 12, 2017. (Narrative Spotlight.) Running time: 90 MINS.

Production: A Beachside presentation and production in association with Sleepy Sheep and Revelator. Produced by Chris Ohlson, Michael B. Clark, Alex Turtletaub. Executive producer, Noël Wells.

Crew: Directed, written by Noël Wells. Camera (color, 35mm), Dagmar Weaver-Madsen. Editor, Terel Gibson.

With: Noël Wells, Nick Thune, Britt Lower, Daniella Pineda, Andre Hyland, Doug Benson, Armen Weitzman, Sergio Cilli

More Film

  • Chris Hemsworth'Avengers: Endgame' Film Premiere, Arrivals,

    Is Chris Hemsworth Ready to Leave the 'Avengers' Franchise?

    Chris Hemsworth isn’t exactly sure when he’ll leave the “Avengers” franchise. “There will come a day,” the “Thor” star told me when we sat down to chat for the second episode of “The Big Ticket,” Variety and iHeart’s new film podcast. “Whether it’s now or in the future, I don’t know…Who knows what the sort [...]

  • Michael B. JordanLAFH Awards 2019, Los

    Michael B. Jordan, Ronda Rousey Join Efforts to Help the Homeless

    Michael B. Jordan and WWE star Ronda Rousey were just two of the powerhouses that gathered in Hollywood Thursday night for the Los Angeles Family Housing’s annual fundraising celebration. The live-auction event, which brought together hundreds of top industry executives, philanthropists, and government partners, aimed to raise $2 million for LAFH, which builds permanent housing [...]

  • Sinemia

    Sinemia Shuts Down U.S. Movie-Ticket Subscription Service

    Sinemia, a would-be rival to MoviePass, is closing down its U.S. operations — telling customers it could not find “a path to sustainability” amid legal headaches, competitive pressures and the challenging economics of the business model. The company announced the shutdown in a notice on its website Thursday. “While we are proud to have created [...]

  • 'Death Stranding' is a 'Playground of

    'Death Stranding' is a 'Playground of Possibilities,' Will Make You Cry

    The Thursday evening conversation between game-making auteur Hideo Kojima and “Walking Dead” actor Norman Reedus about highly-anticipated PlayStation 4 game “Death Stranding” was filled with interesting anecdotes, but little in the way of hard fact. Instead, Kojima made a promise of sorts to the audience and seemingly fans everywhere waiting for more news on the [...]

  • Trailer for Cannes Directors’ Fortnight Entry

    Watch: Trailer for Cannes Directors’ Fortnight Entry ‘Song Without a Name’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    MADRID — Peru’s La Vida Misma and Paris-based sales agent Luxbox have dropped the first trailer and poster of Melina Leon’s “Canción sin nombre” (“Song Without a Name”), selected this week for the Cannes Festival’s Directors’ Fortnight. Written by Leon and Michael J. White, “Song Without a Name” sums up some of ambitions and focus [...]

  • 'Aladdin,' 'Pokemon: Detective Pikachu,' 'Shaft' Set

    'Aladdin,' 'Pokemon: Detective Pikachu,' 'Shaft' Set for China Debuts

    Disney’s new live-action “Aladdin” will release in China on May 24, day-and-date with North America, giving the studio a run of three films in Chinese theaters as many months.  Two other Hollywood titles will also hit the big screen in the Middle Kingdom in the coming months: “Pokemon: Detective Pikachu” on May 10 and the [...]

  • Patrimonio

    Film Review: 'Patrimonio'

    Though it never really went away on much of the globe, a sort of creeping feudalism is making such a striking comeback — with the ever-more-fabulously-rich squeezing the poor of every dime and resource — that Lisa F. Jackson and Sarah Teale’s documentary “Patrimonio” feels like a frightening portent. Will such crude appropriations of land [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content