When we say a feature film reminds us of a sitcom, that’s not necessarily a good thing and is in fact often a slight, but in the case of the breezy, funny, clever and well-acted “Later Days,” it’s actually a compliment. Sure, I’d watch a weekly half-hour show about these relatively normal, likable and relatable characters, who have reached that age where they should have things figured out when it comes to family, love, career and friendships — but they’re still workin’ on it and probably always will be.
Directed, written by and produced by Brad Riddell and Sandy Sternshein, “Later Days” was shot entirely in and around Chicago and features a number of talented younger players leading the core ensemble cast, not to mention the always welcome presence of Second City veteran and longtime Chicago-area resident Tim Kazurinsky and Chicago native Lisa Zane in minor but hilarious supporting roles.
Real-life married couple David Walton (“About a Boy,” “New Girl”) and Majandra Delfino (“Roswell”) shine together as Mike and Pam, who have a sweet if slightly sarcastic rapport and long ago reached that point where they’re totally themselves in each other’s presence, for better or worse. (Mostly better.) Mike is a one-time pro pitching prospect who blew his arm out and is considering applying for the head baseball coaching gig at the local high school, while Pam is an overworked and so-far underpaid transactional attorney who has been tethered to her phone and working 24/7 on a big deal that could result in a major step toward financial security for the family.
On Pam’s birthday, all she wants is a nice dinner at a real restaurant followed by a little “sexy time” with her hubby before she gets some much-needed sleep — but Mike, in classic sitcom-hubby mode, completely misreads the situation, goes on Facebook and invites basically everyone from their high school days (including current friends and people they haven’t seen in 20 years) to join them for a surprise, 1980s prom-themed birthday party.
Cue the sounds of “Destination Unknown” by Missing Persons, “Dance Hall Days” by Wang Chung, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears and “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” by Culture Club, and that’s quite the fantastic catalog for a lower-budget film. The music is put to great use as we’re plunged into the classic It All Happens In One Crazy Night tribute to the romantic comedies of the 1980s — only the characters are mostly about 40 but still getting mixed up in hijinks involving unrequited crushes from long ago; misunderstood motivations and intentions; the living-well-is-the-best-revenge story of a onetime bullied geek; ridiculous physical alterations, and even the toilet papering of a house that was the victim of serial TP’ers back in the day.
Through the night, we meet a variety of colorful and goofy but mostly endearing characters, played with sharp comedic timing by Chicago theater actors David Pasquesi, Audrey Francis, Robyn Coffin, Geno Walker and Cassidy Slaughter-Mason, among others. Mostly, though, this is about Mike and Pam, who have been through times good and not-so-good for years now, and will no doubt stay together and lean on each other forever, as the sounds of “Just Can’t Get Enough” play on the soundtrack of their lives.