It’s difficult for a film to be charming when it’s so busy being preposterous — although in the case of “Entanglement,” a distinct lack of energy and tonal control are also to blame. Incapable of striking a surefooted balance between character-drama gravity and romantic-comedy whimsicality, director Jason James’ sophomore feature (following 2013’s “That Burning Feeling”) delivers a portrait of depression, love and the intertwined nature of life that’s strained to the point of snapping. Even the best efforts of the reliably amusing Thomas Middleditch can’t salvage this consistently unconvincing misfire.
“Entanglement” starts grimly, with Middleditch’s divorcé Ben writing a letter (which he narrates) while James’ camera follows a hose from the exhaust pipe of a running car all the way up to Ben’s second-floor apartment. The vehicle’s departure foils that particular suicide attempt, but Ben proceeds on a path of self-destruction until a buzzer compels him to answer the door — a decision that stymies his fatal plans. Six months later, he’s visiting a child psychologist (Johannah Newmarch) and explaining to his neighbor Tabby (Diana Bang) his theory of quantum entanglement, which stipulates that every choice a person makes creates new realities. Ben believes that if he can find the past decision that sent his life spiraling out of control, he can right his course and live happily ever after.
No sooner has Ben expressed this view than he’s informed by his father (Eric Keenleyside) that his parents once adopted a girl, only to immediately return her after discovering they were pregnant with Ben. Certain that having a sibling would have made everything hunky-dory, Ben sets out on a quest to find this unknown almost-sister. As contrivances would have it, his investigation leads him straight to Hanna (Jess Weixler), the sassy and sexy woman who, days earlier, approached Ben at the local pharmacy and gave him her number. Before long, she’s also opining about quantum entanglement — in particular, spinning particles that are identical and intertwined, except that they’re polar opposites. Moreover, she’s stealing Ben’s wallet, breaking into swimming pools with him and undressing for him, all in a way that makes it painfully clear she’s too good to be true.
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From these clues alone, it’s easy to guess what’s really going on between idealized fantasy-angel Hanna and mentally unstable Ben, though far more frustrating than the film’s obviousness is its uneasy blend of despair and absurdity. Jason Filiatrault’s script freely flip-flops between asking us to take Ben’s misery seriously and to exalt in cutesy scenes involving CGI-animated deer, swarms of glowing jellyfish, talking-bear puppets and conversations between Ben and his middle finger-flipping mirror image. The result of each competing mode is to negate the other’s effectiveness, as well as the wannabe-funny banter shared by Ben and Tabby, and Ben and a young girl (Jena Skodje) who’s a patient of the same psychologist.
Middleditch’s sad-sack routine turns Ben into a mopey drag, and though Weixler’s breath-of-fresh-air liveliness helps offset the gloom, it’s not enough to make up for the film’s general absence of mystery or laughs — or for the fact that, in this context, “quantum entanglement” is just a fancier way of saying “fate.” Like James’ direction, full of off-center and oddly angled compositions that aren’t warranted by the action, “Entanglement” dresses up familiar romantic-comedy themes with affected gimmicks to jumbled ends.