A thinly imagined, stunted-guy, mumblecore-type love story starring Scream‘s Matthew Lillard, Spooner fritters away some charming low-budget production design and around-the-edges detail in service of a meandering narrative that doesn’t impart any meaningful lessons or engaging, smartly articulated revelations about the deeply held ambivalence of modern-day twentysomethings, for whom physical adulthood has brought no particular direction or clarity.
Lillard stars as the hapless title character, Herman Spooner, an introverted man-child and Monrovia, Calif., used car salesman who still lives at home with his mom (Kate Burton) and dad (Christopher McDonald). Seeking to shake their son from his routine, Herman’s parents set as a deadline his impending 30th birthday to finally get a place of his own. To top it off, Herman’s jerky boss (Shea Whigham) is putting pressure on him to up his poor sales numbers or face the chopping block.
Against this backdrop of looming doom, Herman happens upon Rose (Nora Zehetner), a girl whose car has broken down nearby. Forgoing all other priorities and commitments, Herman — an awkward wooer, to be sure — sets about trying to win Rose’s
heart, but by lying about his interests and station in life. To make matters worse, Rose breaks the news that she’s about
to leave for the Philippines, wrecking the seemingly one good thing in Herman’s life before it can even really get started.
If the word “pixie” didn’t exist, it would basically have to be created for Zehetner, who was delightful in the wicked, canted Brick, and here again exudes a guileless, kewpie doll prettiness that could find her easily cast as Audrey Tatou’s younger sister. Lillard, meanwhile, dials way back, and down, on his voluble swagger and charisma, showing intriguing flashes of beaten down vulnerability that belie his large, lanky frame. The beguiling chemistry between the pair is easily the film’s strongest selling point, though it sadly only arrives in fitful flashes.
The problem is that, kind of like the recent (but much more terrible) Waiting For Forever,
Spooner unfolds in an alternate, fantasy reality where girls swoon over de-masculinized awkwardness, and its makers additionally
assume this is will automatically tickle an audience pink. As directed by Drake Doremus — from a story by he and Lindsay Stidham, and a screenplay by Stidham — the movie never locates a convincing place of motivation for what is supposed to be Rose’s correlative ennui and emotional dislocation. Consequently, she comes across as two-dimensional, existing only in orbit and service to Herman’s narrative arc.
As written, she’s seemingly an idiot, too, though Zehetner admirably refuses to yield to this interpretation. When Herman shows Rose a picture of an apartment torn out of a magazine, and tells her it’s his place, she doesn’t blink an eye; later, he “flirts” by saying things like, “I could palm your head,” and, after she compliments his man-cave-type outdoor hangout, “I’ll build you [your own] fort, and put the plans in PDF format.” Rather than be creeped out by such disconnected, vaguely sociopathic chatter, Rose instead just accepts it blindly, at face value, with no comment or inkling that it might be unusual. Doremus and Stidham compound this mistake by having her acquiesce from the first moment of the pair’s meeting; Rose’s eyes always say yes to Herman, never no, so Spooner is devoid of much material drama, or even the quasi-emotional payoff of a sex scene, which would render Herman a more awakened adult character.
There’s a certain low, pulsing heartache in Herman’s swallowed, miserable loneliness, and how it’s warped his sociability, and the gangly Lillard actually has the chops to play something this depressive and inwardly directed. But neither the film’s writing nor its direction trust him enough to do so, and the nervous result is a blatantly false and pointless affair — a character-study dramedy that spends so much time trying to inject flickering positivity into the proceedings that it destroys any sincere chance at audience empathy with its lead character. For the film’s trailer, click here. (Moving Pictures, R, 83 minutes)