Answers to Nothing

Answers to Nothing is an unfortunately all-too-apt title for director Matthew Leutwyler's sprawling thematic think piece, which focuses on the hard knocks and self-deception of a disparate group of Los Angelenos. The filmmakers seem to be reaching rather nakedly for early Paul Thomas Anderson territory here, but the copped moves come off less as artful homage and more as the nervous half-formed duplications of a mentee who's left the nest too soon.

While Ryan (Dane Cook) and Kate (Elizabeth Mitchell) try to conceive a child, Ryan is also carrying on an affair with would-be singer Drew (Aja Volkman), as well as dealing his mother Marilyn (Barbara Hershey), who seemingly lives in a cocoon of denial over the fact that her long-away husband is somehow going to suddenly return home. Frankie (Julie Benz), a police detective investigating a missing child case, is at first convinced that the skeevy Beckworth (Greg Germann) is the guilty party, but runs up against a dead end. Teacher Carter (Mark Kelly) seems increasingly fraught by news coverage of said event, while rookie cop Jerry (Erik Palladino) floats through his days and nights lonely, and other characters come and go.

Many other movies, from Anderson's Boogie Nights and Magnolia to Garden Party and even the Oscar-winning Crash, to name but a small handful, have delved into this melancholic "underworld" of the City of Angels, where so many dreams die hard. While Frankie and Kate are best friends, and other characters share some connections, though, there isn't quite as much overlay as one might expect in Answers to Nothing, and subsequently the film leans on behavioral similarities and a couple late twists to drive home its point: that we each construct rationalizations and tell ourselves lies, whether big or small, to help frame, situate and create comfort with our own actions. This is all fine and good, but there's not much "oomph" to the picture, given the varying degrees of emotional payoff.

To be sure, the characters aren't wildly over-sketched, and Leutwyler admirably keeps the film's collective temperature turned down, so that each story strand plays out on equal footing and the looming specter of the missing child doesn't overwhelm the movie. The performances are of the same piece, tonally. But the result is a film without much of an electric charge or mystery — problematic though not necessarily damning except for the fact that so many of Answers to Nothing's moments of small observation also feel nipped or overly familiar rather than natively insightful. The movie unfolds dutifully, over the course of two hours. And then, just a short time later, all memories of it are gone as well. For the full, original review, from ShockYa, click here. (Roadside Attractions, R, 123 minutes)

 

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