[Review] – Why Stop Now

13 Sep

Title: Why Stop Now
Year: 2012
Directors: Phil Dorling and Ron Nyswaner
Writers: Phil Dorling and Ron Nyswaner
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Melissa Leo, Tracy Morgan
MPAA Rating: R, language throughout, and drug content
Runtime: 85 min
IMDb Rating: 5.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 25%
Metacritic: 36

I had absolutely no idea what to expect going into Why Stop Now. It was the feature-length debut of Phil Dorling and Ron Nyswaner, who also wrote the screenplay together, and check out the cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Melissa Leo and Tracy Morgan. All three of them are fine actors, for sure, an Academy Award nominee, an Academy Award winner and an Emmy nominee, respectively, but they’re three very different kind of actors that I had a hard time picturing starring together in a movie. Yet here they are in Why Stop Now, which is by all means a mediocre and forgettable movie, yet also one I probably liked a bit better than I should have.

Mr. Eisenberg is Eli, a piano prodigy that has everything riding on a big audition that will either give him the big career he’s always wanted or leave him stuck caring for his sister and his mother, the character Ms. Leo plays, who’s a drug addict. The film is set on the day of said big audition, and as you might imagine things don’t go as planned in his quest to get there, as he has to take his mother to a rehab center first and everything just starts spiraling down and he’s forced to enlist his mother’s drug dealer, the character played by Mr. Morgan, as their unlikeliest of allies.

Now, when I say that this Mr. Dorling and Mr. Nyswaner’s feature debut is because the two had made a short film previously which they presented at Sundance in 2008 called Predisposed. This film is the long version of that 15-minute short, adding an extra hour to that story (it still clocks in at a short 85 minutes) and having the filmmakers come full circle in a way, as they presented this one four years later at the same renowned film festival in Utah. Even more full circle is the fact that Mr. Eisenberg and Ms. Leo both played the same characters in that short.

I mention that not only because it’s pretty interesting but because you would think that having spent the last half decade or even longer focussed on this story and these characters, and even knowing what actors would be playing the characters, then the directors would know how to handle it, and that just doesn’t appear to be the case. The actors do a very nice job with these roles, and the directors do show that they know how to pace the story because it moves swiftly along, but even if it moved well enough, I thought it moved for no real reason.

What I mean by that is that I just don’t know if Mr. Dorling and Mr. Nyswander knew what movie they wanted to make, or that if they did then for some reason they just couldn’t really commit to it or something. That lack of conviction comes because they just had no idea how to balance the two tones of this movie, they didn’t figure out how to juggle the comedic and the dramatic. Lots of movies are one with elements of the other, but Why Stop Now wanted to be both at the same time, and as a result the melodrama totally canceled the screwball moments, and vice versa. That’s why I can’t recommend this movie.

The thing is, that’s pretty much the sole reason why I can’t recommend it, and yet I’ve heard from other people that think this one’s pretty crappy and that think it’s far worse a movie than the one I just saw. I think at parts it’s fun, you have this guy who needs to make an audition driving his mother to rehab but then realizing that their insurance policy doesn’t cover voluntary admission so they need to get to her dealer to get her high and then the dealer needs to get to his dealer because he was out of drugs and then a bunch of crazy stuff happens. This works because Mr. Eisenberg brings this really fun performance that makes you buy into the high-stakes adventure, but then it quickly falls apart because the directors bring this confused direction that make it seem pretty low-stakes.

This is supposed to be a very silly day in the life of this piano prodigy who gets into ridiculous adventures, but the ludicrousness of that farce-like material is spoiled by the film’s insistence on remaining grounded and being, at parts, a serious drama. Then there’s that ending; for an hour the film has just been firing on all cylinders, exhausting out it’s screwball options like crazy, and it decides to end on such a feel-good note that just doesn’t gel well with anything that came before it.

I was torn, in a way, I went into Why Stop Now expecting not to like it because people had told me I probably wasn’t going to. So no surprise in the fact that, indeed, I didn’t, but it frustrated me because I could have easily seen myself liking this and yet wrong decisions were made. The cast was rock solid, Mr. Eisenberg chief among them, but then the directors wanted both a comedy and a drama, and you just can’t have it both ways with a general premise like the one this one has.

Grade: C+

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