Sometimes the best measure of an actor isn’t a dynamite role in a masterpiece, but what (s)he can salvage from a character that seems all but unplayable as conceived and written. For Bruce Greenwood, who’s been conventionally outstanding in films like Exotica, The Sweet Hereafter, and Meek’s Cutoff, that challenge arrives in the form of And Now A Word From Our Sponsor, a feeble satire in which he plays an advertising executive who begins speaking entirely in slogans. Had this moronic part been given to almost anybody else—including folks as talented as, say, Robin Williams or Jim Carrey—the result would very likely have been an unmitigated disaster. Greenwood, however, commits to it wholeheartedly, much the way that Naomi Watts’ struggling actress character treated her hackneyed soap-opera dialogue in Mulholland Drive. He can’t rescue the movie all by himself, but he does at least transform it into a first-rate acting class.
Parker Posey, by contrast, can only flail. She plays Sponsor’s ostensible lead, a charity coordinator who studied with Greenwood years earlier and happens upon him in his hospital bed, shortly after the episode that caused him to start communicating in adspeak. For contrived reasons, Greenwood needs someplace to live for about a week, until a bed opens up in a care facility. Posey reluctantly agrees to take him in, a decision that puts her at odds with both her teenage daughter (Allie MacDonald), who’s not thrilled to have a Rain Man-style freak around the house, and the acting head of Greenwood’s agency (Callum Blue), who’s angling to have his incapacitated boss declared legally insane and permanently ousted. Meanwhile, Posey gradually finds that there’s an odd sort of wisdom in Greenwood’s parroting of well-known commercials—feeling grateful, for instance, when he assures her, “You deserve a break today.”
Most of Michael Hamilton-Wright’s asinine screenplay consists of labored efforts to create a context for familiar slogans. “Got milk?” Greenwood asks when given cereal. “This Bud’s for you,” he says, handing Posey a flower. After rescuing MacDonald from date rape: “Cavity protection you can trust.” This gets old even faster than it may sound, and it’s strictly a gimmick—unlike Being There, the film’s obvious model, Sponsor has no interest in indicting the fatuity of the world at large, which is barely seen. Yet Greenwood invests each cutesy line with such casual conviction that he almost sells the idea that something is there. It’s like a feature-length version of that video clip in which Christoph Waltz just repeats the words “dill pickle” again and again, demonstrating all the ways that an actor can register emotion. Nobody really wants to watch that for an hour and a half, but it’s pretty amazing all the same.