Jason Schwartzman has made a career out of portraying film characters who are seemingly irritating, detachedand most definitely unique (“Rushmore,” “I Heart Huckabees”). And I mean that in a nice way. Because despite their seeming lack of humanity, the characters inevitably are likable. They may not care about pretty much anything, but we can’t help but care about them. (Remember the concierge in “The Grand Budapest Hotel”?). In most instances.
And so it goes in hislatest outing, the peculiar comedy “7 Chinese Brothers” (the title comes from the R.E.M. song), in which Schwartzman stars as slacker Larry, a boozing 30-year-old cynical prankster who drives a crummy car, lives in a crummy house and drifts from job to job mostly because he doesn’t care about much. OK, he doesn’t truly care about anything, except his ridiculously adorable dog Arrow (played by Schwartzman’s real-life pooch), a French bulldog who steals every scene he’s in (to be honest, he almost steals the entire movie), and to minimal extent the attractive young boss lady (Eleanor Pienta) who hires him (in a totally implausible scene) at the local Quick Lube on the same day Larry getsfired by the Buca de Beppo restaurant up the road for stealing tips. Having swapped theblue uniform shirts of Bucca for the blue shirts of Quick Lube, Larrysoon finds himself stealing coinage from the cars he vacuums, even though on some level he actually starts to careabout the job.
In between drinks, heck, DURINGall of his lamely disguised Big Gulp-sized, booze-laced beverages, Larry visits his spitfire of a grandmother (Olympia Dukakis) at the swanky senior living facility she calls home. Larry cares about her in his own way, but right now he needs cash. Grandma’s loaded; they are each other’s only living relative. You get the picture. But director-writer Bob Byington doesn’t take the easy way out when it comes to their relationship. Enter the facility’s nonchalant orderly Major Norwood (Tunde Adebimpe of music’s TV on the Radio) who plies Larry with prescription meds he steals from residents (both present and dearly departed) and accompanies him to local haunts where the duo (mostly Norwood) try to pick up the ladies. Seems Norwood’salso been cozying up to Grandma, as we discover in the film’s most crushing turn of events.
Everybody in the film seems disillusioned with life on some level, including Larry’s old boss at Buca (John Gatins) and his Buca tough-guy co-worker Don (Jonathan Togo), who, in a subplot, wreak goofy revenge on Larry for a car-keying incident. Then there’s the cashier at the local Quick Mart (Ted Beck), who lives for his daily conversations with Larry when he stops by to purchase booze. The film never allows the audience to truly get to know any of the characters in Larry’s world, a world in which their uniform shirts emblazoned with company logos and their first names serve as reminders of their lot in life.
And maybe that’s the point: We are seeing all of them through Larry’s eyes and his emotionlessoutlook on life. By the end of the film, it’s impossible to truly care about any of them,including sad sack Larry and his dog. On second thought, I’ll make an exception forhis dog.
‘7 Chinese Brothers’ [s3r star=2/4] Screen Media Films presents a film written and directed by Bob Byington. Rated: No MPAA rating. Running time: 85 minutes. Available on demand and opening Friday at Facets Cinematheque.