Sad? Directionless? Go home. Sure, there'll be some drama at first, but ultimately you'll come to terms with whatever's bugging you. And, if you're lucky, there might even be a life-affirming love interest to help you out. That's the message that's been floating around a bunch of modestly budgeted dramas in the past few years, from Jersey Girl to Garden State to Winter Passing to Elizabethtown to the new Lonesome Jim. So maybe there's something to it. Parents, clear out your spare rooms: If your troubled kids are paying attention to what the movies tell them, they may start showing up soon.
They might even arrive unannounced, as Casey Affleck does here, returning from Manhattan and turning up on parents Mary Kay Place and Seymour Cassel's Indiana doorstep looking a little worked over. A writer/dog walker/Applebees waiter, Affleck appears exhausted by failure and doubt and ready to spread the feeling around. After laying out why divorced, living-at-home brother Kevin Corrigan's life isn't worth living, he feels a twinge of guilt when Corrigan tries to kill himself. But, hey, what are you going to do?
Affleck plays apathy personified and that's where the film's problems begin. Though Affleck does his best to humanize his one-note character, he's stuck in a script by first-time screenwriter James Strouse that works in broad strokes and trite moments. Affleck strikes up a reluctant romance with sunny, single-mom nurse Liv Tyler who likes him because, well, who knows? Since Lord Of The Rings, Tyler has only made Jersey Girl and this, so maybe it's her job to cheer up Affleck brothers. She helps him work through some personal realizations easily summed up thusly: "Hey, maybe everyone would be better off if I wasn't a miserable fuck all the time."
The movie certainly would be. Filmed in Strouse's hometown and directed by Steve Buscemi using digital video and a minimal amount of fuss, it finds some fine comedic moments when it stops focusing on Affleck's never-ending angst and starts exploring small-town oddness. Mark Boone Junior (a.k.a. the fat cop from Batman Begins) steals his scenes as Affleck's drug-dealing, unrepentantly selfish uncle (nickname: "Evil") and the moments dealing with Affleck and Corrigan's attempts to coach a hapless girls' basketball team are all quite funny. Maybe Strouse and Buscemi should have given them more to do. After all, if the movies are to be believed, underdog sports teams have built-in life-affirming powers too.