For most of its running time, John Krasinski’s adaptation of David Foster Wallace’s short-story collection Brief Interviews With Hideous Men consists of little more than a series of monologues, and plays like some abstract theater exercise, hosted by a college coffeehouse. Except that this college is populated by the likes of Bobby Cannavale, Timothy Hutton, and Christopher Meloni—veteran actors each taking a turn embodying Krasinski’s careful reductions of Wallace’s loquacious bastards. And unlike the book, Krasinski’s adaptation has a single protagonist: Julianne Nicholson, playing a grad student who intends to examine the impact of feminism (and get over a painful breakup) by recording the desires and fears of men.
Brief Interviews is first and foremost an actors’ showcase, which means it rises and falls on the strength of the performances. For his filmmaking debut, Krasinski appears to have called in favors from nearly every famous person he’s ever met, but he hasn’t yet developed the authority or command to work their varying styles and skills into seamless cinema. When he has Frankie Faison describing his father’s job as a washroom attendant, the scene is riveting and pertinent, but it clashes with the comic aggression of Will Arnett, the muted zaniness of Will Forte, and the “How did I end up here?” amateurishness of Death Cab For Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard.
For about the first 40 minutes, Brief Interviews’ extended navel-gazing anecdotes about broken relationships come off as repetitive and taxing, though by the end it becomes clearer what Krasinski’s trying to do. He’s presenting a series of arguments and counter-arguments that illustrate Wallace’s complicated and often self-defeating analysis of why male-female relationships are doomed to fail. Krasinski literalizes Wallace’s stylistic love of asides too much, but it helps that he’s aware enough of his movie’s limitations to keep Brief Interviews blessedly short. It also helps that he saves the most important monologue—one in which a seemingly nice guy explains to his ex-girlfriend why he cheated on her—for the end, and for himself. Krasinski nails the speech, though it’s such a “Look at me!” scene that it raises the question of whether Krasinski made this movie because he really loves Wallace’s work, or because just he wanted to show Hollywood that the loveable doof from The Office can actually act.