Tony Hale took neurotic brilliance to the next level on “Arrested Development” and then “Veep,” and he’s squarely in his comfort zone playing another cringe-inducing, socially awkward and hilariously tone-deaf character in the offbeat charmer “Eat Wheaties!”, one of the most endearing movies about light stalking you’ll ever see.
Not that Hale’s Sid Straw is exactly lacking in confidence; it’s just that his confidence is usually misplaced. He’s the kind of guy whose mere presence in the break room at work will have you doing a quick U-turn and hoping he didn’t spot you, the kind of guy who thinks it’s funny to bring a 1980s Major League Baseball star to a wedding as his Plus One just because, the kind of guy who goes on a couple of dates and starts calling his new acquaintance “my girlfriend,” much to her chagrin.
Oh Sid. You’re something all right.
Sid is stumbling through his mundane life, irritating his boss, Bruce (Rizwan Manji); his co-worker Sam (Lamorne Morris), and in particular his sister-in-law, Janet (Elisha Cuthbert), who has never forgiven Sid for stepping on and ruining her wedding dress. He even manages to annoy people he’s never met in person, e.g., Sarah Chalke’s Frankie, a talent agent who represents Elizabeth Banks.
Turns out Sid attended the University of Pennsylvania with Banks, and he’s on the college reunion committee, and he’s making it his mission to persuade Banks to attend the reunion, even as his acquaintances and co-workers openly doubt he was ever friends with the popular actress and are quite certain she wouldn’t remember him even if they did briefly cross paths. (Sid tells everyone Elizabeth would always say goodbye with the catch phrase, “Eat Wheaties!” Yeah right sure Sid.) He makes repeated attempts to reach Banks through calls to Frankie the talent agent and dozens of Facebook messages to Banks in which he pours out his heart and reveals all sorts of embarrassing things about himself to her.
One slight hitch: Sid’s “emails” to Banks are actually public posts on her Fan Page, which results in a restraining order and Sid losing his job because his company frowns on employees receiving summons at work ordering them to cease and desist bothering celebrities.
This could be the stuff of a disturbing drama a la “The King of Comedy,” but in the hands of writer-director Scott Abramovitch and with the considerable contributions of an outstanding cast that also includes Kylie Bunbury (“Big Sky”) and Paul Walter Hauser (“Richard Jewell”), “Eat Wheaties” is a dryly funny, even sweet and surprisingly touching story. (The source material is Michael Kun’s novel “The Locklear Letters,” in which the object of obsession is Heather Locklear, so yes, it often takes a while for books to become movies.) Clocking in at a breezy 88 minutes, this is a movie that — unlike Sid — knows not to wear out its welcome, and it ends on just the perfect note.
We might even miss Sid now that we’ve gotten to know him a little better.