The shadow of Rushmore looms over Jason Schwartzman’s performance in The Marc Pease Experience, but Todd Louiso’s highly unanticipated follow-up to the 2002 miserablist snoozer Love Liza bears an unfortunate resemblance to more recent comedies as well. The film’s broad take on the self-delusion endemic to the high-school musical-theater world suggests Hamlet 2 minus the laughs, its a cappella subplot invites unflattering comparisons to Ed Helms’ instrument-free crooning in The Office, and Schwartzman’s high-school girlfriend recalls Seth Rogen’s barely legal lady-love in Pineapple Express. Louiso’s misfiring comedy feels less like a comic feast than a thrown-together assemblage of haphazardly nuked leftovers.
In a squandered lead performance, the adorable, winning Schwartzman plays the non-adorable, non-winning title character, a myopic dreamer who never recovered from freaking out and humiliating himself during a high-school performance of The Wiz. Eight years later, Schwartzman still hasn’t moved on. He hangs out at the high school, where he’s dating senior Anna Kendrick and badgering would-be mentor Ben Stiller, a musical-theater phony who’s fucking Schwartzman’s girlfriend when not ducking his calls. Schwartzman has finally raised the money to record a demo for his a cappella group, but would-be producer Stiller has no interest in further encouraging Schwartzman’s fantasies of a music career.
Stiller and Schwartzman look like long-lost brothers. Even more disconcertingly, they seem to be playing variations on the same character, both smiling cheeseballs who’ve internalized the smarmy artificiality of the musical-theater world to the point where even their true selves are phony. The difference is that Schwartzman is a sweetheart/true believer and Stiller is an oily cad, though neither character is developed enough for the pathos of having pathetic dreams crushed to have any resonance. Character-actor-turned-filmmaker Louiso has delivered another sad, joyless downer disguised as a goofy chucklefest; it’s almost impressive that he’s made a broad comedy about musical theater and a cappella singing that’s every bit as depressing as the gas-huffing hijinks in Love Liza. Who could have guessed a concept as promising and long overdue as a musical Jason Schwartzman vehicle would lead to such a regrettable little nothing?