Friday, August 02, 2013

CollegeHumor's Coffee Town Underwhelms

Coffee Town is kind of a dud and somewhat of a baffling move for the CollegeHumor team for their first movie. CH's comedy is ordinarily a go-for-broke approach which makes sense since they don't have network heads to appease. Theoretically, CollegeHumor "produced" the film while Arrested Development staff director Brad Copeland wrote and directed it so you would think that CH would have let him run with his idea or why bother attaching your name to the film?

I'm only speculating but Coffee Town felt safe. It feels as unambitious as a network sitcom's off-episode. The concept itself -- a man who telecommutes from a coffee shop deciding to save his precious workspace through robbery -- is so low-stakes, it's almost charming.
But a low stakes film like Coffee Town needs to be about something -- off the top of my head, maybe how our present-day societal dilemna of determining how to reconstruct value in place when we can professionally thrive in placenessness* -- or it's just a paper-thin plot about a guy sitting at a coffee shop. The film doesn't succeed on this level as any attempts to infuse this sitcomy plot with meaning feels corny and forced. When Dennis Reynolds (or whatever the guy's name is) is explaining to his love interest that he likes to go to the coffee shop to be part of the world, there's a sense of the films initial intentions to being diluted. That leaves a film overly reliant on a plot that's paper-thin. They're supposed to be robbing a coffee shop but this isn't Ocean's 11 where much of the screen time is centered on an elaborate heist.

Glenn Howerton proves he's got enough of a leading man quality to transition into film as a comedic straight man a la Jason Bateman or Jason Sudeikis. The problem is he's not helped out by his supporting cast.

Ben Schwartz is very talented in sketch comedy and in recurring guest roles (Parks and Recreation comes to mind) but he starts to wear thin playing the same character for 90 minutes (in case you think I discriminate, I have the same complaint about House of Lies). His character traits walk a thin line between being a well-developed comedic character and being a "Who's Line is it Anyway" player picking party quirks out of a bag. Steve Little is equally forgettable as friend #2 and the leading lady (Adrianne Palicki) has no chemistry with Howerton. Her conversations with Howerton's character and her general appearance/demeanor (for one, she's dressed like a slob who just got out of bed) seem so mundane, it's hard to believe that he could possibly get that worked up about her, let alone believe that two different guys would want to put that much effort in pursuing her.  There are a number of actresses (including Aubrey Plaza who got her start in internet videos) who have appeared in CollegeHumor's video shorts which have magnetic and charismatic personas that would have been better choices for the lead.

Josh Groban (a wonderfully odd choice) isn't bad in his role but the problem is that by not being that bad of a guy, he inadvertently makes the good guys less likable. He's slightly disgruntled at a lack of tips and has dreams of playing in a rock band, but the Little-Schwartz-Howerton gang treats him as an arch villain and gets a little abusive of him. Insulting his band while going to his show is a little low. In fact, for someone who "likes being part of the world" Howerton's character doesn't seem to really appreciate the camaraderie of his follow coffee shop goers and mostly wants to avoid them.

Then again, the film is wonderfully relatable in this sense: Sometimes coffee shop barristas or restaurant managers who insist you constantly pay are annoying as Hell. And the film has its moments (especially on the comedic front: some of the jokes hit) or even a worthwhile movie to watch in the right circumstances. This isn't a definitive thumbs down. It just felt underwhelming in relation to its potential.

I should also add that I personally have gotten to know CollegeHumor in the last calendar year through the PR department and it's truly been wonderful being let in.

For that matter, I do feel conflicted because I'm now raining on the parade of my new friends with this negative review. I should add that a movie made by CollegeHumor is a big step for them but not representative of their comedic output. Its one of some 2,433 creative endeavours they've undertaken so if it's not one of their best works, it matters slightly less. It's pretty amazing that a group of twenty-somethings working on the top story of a sky scraper in New York could come up with that many videos in the first place.

*I was a geography major. I can spit out place construct terminology until the cows come home

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