The Baxter Movie Review

We've all seen the romantic comedy where the fair blonde heroine is in the church, at the altar and just about to marry the absolute wrong guy, when the right guy (handsome, charming, maybe a little unorthodox, but romantic as all hell) comes charging in and brings things to a screeching halt. Girl marries right guy and everybody goes home happy. Only what happens to the other, not-so-right guy? Michael Showalter's promising, quite funny, but ultimately underwhelming The Baxter is the film about that guy, starting with that quintessential wedding moment and then flashing back to what led up to it.

The guy in question here is Elliot Sherman (Showalter), a dishwater dull C.P.A. whose grandmother had a word for nice guys like him who never got the girl: a Baxter. Played by Showalter as a nerdy bore with a basically decent disposition, Elliot is on the verge of starting a minor flirtation with Cecil (Michelle Williams), the temp filling in for his sick secretary, when in walks his WASP-ily gorgeous new client Caroline (Elizabeth Banks), who promptly sweeps him off his feet with her Ralph Lauren-ad-ready looks. Although it's difficult to see why such a bombshell as Caroline would fall for a guy the film spends so much time trying to make look like a first-degree schlub, the oddball pairing does make for some decent comic contretemps, and easily sets up Elliot's downfall when Caroline's ex-boyfriend, Bradley, shows up. A darkly handsome, adventurous, and wealthy scientist who likes to quote Keats and isn't afraid of showing his sensitive side, Bradley (Justin Theroux, slyly magnificent) is like kryptonite to a Baxter, and the rest of the film is just biding time until the inevitable happens.

Considering the rather rote nature of some of the situations here - and Showalter's script does a good trade in cliché, once past the admittedly clever opening - and the film's obviously lower-than-low-budget, it's a surprise to see sharp comic talent like Michael Ian Black, Paul Rudd Zak Orth hanging around. Also livening up the proceedings is the great Peter Dinklage, who wrings the absolute most out of his thankless and stock role as a (oh-so-surprisingly) gay wedding planner. Michelle Williams is her usual thoughtful self, though the film has taken her usual sardonic intelligence and it made more like a dull mousiness that doesn't bode well for extended scenes between her and Showalter.

A far better writer and at least moderately better director than he is comic actor, Showalter has a rather small bag of acting tricks, and they seem for the most part to involve looking vaguely constipated, in an uptight British sort of manner. It's a shame, really, because in many ways this is not a bad little film. While The Baxter is probably not that different in the end than the romantic comedies it is ostensibly commenting upon, it does have a little more zip to it than your average piece of spring in Manhattan fluff (Showalter at least has the good grace to set the bulk of it in Brooklyn), and the workplace flirting between Elliot and Cecil has a welcome dash of The Apartment in it, and it's hard to imagine a bigger compliment than that.

Reviewed at the 2005 Tribeca Film Festival.

Baxter brown.

Comments

The Baxter Rating

" Weak "

Rating: PG-13, 2005

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