Max Landis, the self-styled brat screenwriter of Chronicle and the underrated American Ultra, makes his feature directing debut with Me Him Her, a movie as scraggly and eager as a teenage cover band fumbling through its first set. Made with the quick-and-cheap aesthetic of a webseries, the film juggles geek-friendly tropes (best friend-dom as existential condition, public humiliation as solidarity, the pursuit of the impossible girl as hero’s journey, etc.) and mid-to-late-1990s pop culture references with equal clumsiness. Perhaps it’s made for friends, or at least viewers whose threshold of relatability and appeal is being able to remember the lyrics to Eve 6’s “Inside Out.” Anyone not won over by Landis’ manic signifying will find a meager collection of running jokes, broad-as-a-barn-door digs at Hollywood phoniness, and indifferently framed visual gags.
Me Him Her stars Dustin Milligan as Cory, an office drone who flies out to Los Angeles to help his TV star buddy, Brendan (Luke Bracey), come out the closet, but ends up spending all of his time pining for Gabbi (Emily Meade), a lesbian he meets in a gay bar. One could take issue with the implied sexual politics—with magical hetero Cory serving as a gateway to self-acceptance for friends and one-night-stands alike—if it didn’t seem so oblivious. If a word like “structure” applies to Me Him Her, then the movie feels like a first-draft stream of afterthoughts, climaxing in an interminable sword fight—at the premiere party for Brendan’s ambiguously pirate-themed cop show, Hard Justice—with a Landis-cameo punchline. It may as well be a shrug emoticon.
Cory deflects paparazzi attention from his not-yet-out bestie by ripping off his shirt and making out with everyone in sight at a gay pride parade; Hard Justice co-star Haley Joel Osment (playing himself) yells about how he has to work out at home because they won’t let his cats in the gym; Brendan, who has a crush on a man named Griffin (Jake McDorman), has a bizarre sex dream in which he rides a bespectacled griffin puppet à la NeverEnding Story while wearing Aladdin Sane makeup. There’s a man-sized papier-mâché penis somewhere in there, too. Unchecked impulse can be a boon, but Landis writes his way through every scene as though it were overdue homework, and directs with nary a hint of style. Much of the time, he stages scenes as amateurishly lit close-ups of people talking on phones or sitting at tables (in apartment kitchens, restaurants, conference rooms, etc.), the editing dependent on who’s talking the loudest.
Movies this ramshackle have an intrinsic element of charm. There are moments in Me Him Her that could never happen in a more disciplined movie, or one that put any effort into keeping track of how its character behave—say, the creepy seriousness that Scott Bakula, cast as Brendan’s dad, puts into the line, “Boys don’t have best friends.” But for every offbeat joke that lands (e.g. “Batman Forever” graffitied on the wall of a nightmarish bar bathroom), there are five or more minutes of out-of-breath stumbling, yelling, and generic pop. Everyone involved seems to have had a good time goofing off in the warm L.A. weather. Unfortunately, one can’t help but hold movies to higher standards than vacation photos.