Jeff Garlin’s second directorial feature, Dealin’ With Idiots, is a largely improvised ensemble piece about a comedian who decides that his son’s Little League team would make an interesting subject for a movie. It doesn’t.
The comedian, played by Garlin, goes about researching his Little League script by interviewing assorted wacky characters—including Bob Odenkirk, Fred Willard, Gina Gershon, J.B. Smoove, Richard Kind, and Kerri Kenney—who hang around the softball field. These one-on-ones all follow the same pattern: Garlin arrives at a character’s house or workplace, stands around awkwardly while they do weekday improv workshop material, and then learns some kind of secret about the character; more often than not, the secret involves a controlling woman. The result has all the hallmarks of hardcore porn—kitchen-centric suburban interiors, risible dialogue, flat lighting, unconscious misogyny, pretty girls who insist on wearing heels while sunbathing, formulaic scenes that end abruptly—except the one that matters.
Lest he alienate his target audience of people who buy baseball-themed merchandise from the Skymall catalog, Garlin alternates these interviews with scenes of himself watching Little League games (less exciting than it sounds) and bathetic discussions of sports and fatherhood with his dad’s ghost, played by Timothy Olyphant. These are meant to be revealing—“character beats,” in screenwriting-instructor speak—but just like the revelations of the weirdos Garlin interviews, they feel arbitrary, relaying nothing about Garlin’s character except that he is a dad who likes baseball, two traits that the film already established by virtue of its existence.
Though at first merely very boring, Dealin’ With Idiots eventually begins to feel self-indulgent—which is a sort of perverse achievement, considering how modestly scaled and unambitious the movie is. One scene is built entirely around the fact that the league’s commissioner is named Gordon, which could be sort of mildly funny in real life but becomes embarrassing in the context of fictional comedy. Another rehashes the old premise of a boorish passerby approaching a celebrity while they’re out with their family; Garlin’s interminable pacing gives the joke time to go from stale to moldy to rotten.
Garlin seems incapable of articulating his love for baseball, or deriving anything meaningful from it; to compensate, he simply reiterates again and again. As if admitting defeat, he ends the movie with a tacked-on meltdown, which is augmented with an even more tacked-on “surreal” coda—a fittingly tone-deaf, arbitrary ending to an inconsequential movie.