Comedies can be dramatic and dramas can be comedic, but when those elements aren’t deftly infused, the result is neither here nor there, a film lacking in conviction or laughs. Philip Dorling and Ron Nyswaner’s Why Stop Now—expanded from their 2008 Sundance short, and screened at this year’s Sundance as Predisposed—slips into the no-man’s land between screwball and melodrama, squandering both the comic opportunities of an irrational search for drugs and the raw desperation of a piano prodigy who’s held captive by his mother’s dysfunction. It’s handsome, well-paced, and nicely acted, but suffers from a fatal lack of purpose, as if Dorling and Nyswaner couldn’t commit to whatever movie they wanted to make. They just bring it competently over the finish line.
Jesse Eisenberg’s presence in every scene partially compensates for the lapses in energy. Eisenberg stars as a gifted ivory-tickler who’s given an audition with the big Julliard-like music institute that’s going to rescue him from his family’s crippling dependence. Set over the course of the frenzied afternoon before the audition, Why Stop Now begins with Eisenberg dropping off his deranged little sister at an aunt’s house and driving his drug-addicted mother (Melissa Leo) to rehab. The catch? His mother’s urine is clean, and they don’t have the insurance necessary for voluntary admittance. The counselor advises Leo to game the system by going out, getting high, and coming back with dirty urine so she can be treated. That sounds crazy and implausible, but such is the nature of a health-care system with lots of systemic gaps in care.
The real implausibility kicks in later, when Eisenberg and Leo try to score drugs from Leo’s usual source, a pair of dealers played by Tracy Morgan and The Wire’s Isiah Whitlock, Jr., but they’re fresh out and need to head to their suppliers to re-up. So Why Stop Now becomes this crazy caravan where everyone is pursuing the drugs necessary to dope up a user sufficiently for rehab, which sounds delirious and absurd in theory, but turns out considerably milder in practice. Nothing seems like enough of a threat—not the dealers, not Leo’s addiction, not even the tick-tick-tock of Eisenberg needing to make the audition in time. It’s a low-stakes high-stakes affair.