Ben (Silicon Valley and Verizon
commercial star Thomas Middleditch) is depressed. In fact, Jason James’
dark comedy Entanglement begins with montage of
failed suicide attempts. Fortunately, Ben’s too inept to die—he tries to gas
himself with an exhaust pipe, but a kid steals his car; he takes a bath with a
toaster, but forgets to plug it in; when he succeeds in slitting his wrists, he
gets up to answer the front door.
In the midst of his misery, he meets Hanna (Jess
Weixler, Teeth), the manic pixie dream girl of his
dreams, and through sheer quirky force of will, she drags him out of his funk.
Here’s the kicker: Hanna was briefly almost his sister. Ben’s parents, thinking
they couldn’t have children, adopted an infant girl. That very day, they
learned they were pregnant with Ben and the adoption agency made them give back
the baby. I don’t know how legit that is, but I have zero clue how adoption
agencies operate, so what the hell.
Jason Filiatrault’s script skirts perilously close to
overused indie rom-com traps, though it’s strange enough to differentiate
itself and ultimately moves in refreshing ways. We’ve seen this adorably twee
meet-cute time and again—antisocial weirdo guy meets vivacious woman who
instantly likes him for vague reasons and teaches him how to live. But as
familiar as Ben and Jess’ perky courtship plays, the fact that we know what we
know colors the rest of their relationship. Entanglement further
upends the usual genre tropes in dark, off-kilter fashion, with flourishes of
magical realism—animated deer, talking puppets, messages spelled out in
soup—all augmented by a do-wop heavy soundtrack.
Ben’s not always an easy character to root for. He’s
incredibly self-centered and in true movie fashion, somehow has a nice ass
apartment and friends, despite being unemployed and a miserable prick. In
conversation with Hanna, and even his neighbor, Tabby (a wonderfully harried
Diana Bang (The Interview), he never listens to a word
anyone says. And sure, his wife left him and his parents are neurotic, but for
all of his woe-is-me shtick and depressive spiral, nothing all that bad has
ever happened to him, though he paints every broken shoelace as tragedy.
It’s really down to Middleditch that Entanglement doesn’t
bog down and entirely become Sad Straight White Dude Learns a
Lesson: The Movie. A misanthropic nerd, he has an affable charm that
balances out his self-pitying, sarcastic gallows humor. This is a guy willing
to have a verbal throwdown with a tween in the lobby of a therapist’s office,
so making him sympathetic and relatable isn’t the easiest feat.
Though she plays a familiar character type, Weixler has a
look-at-me star quality. (A quick comparison point is Jennifer Lawrence, as the
two have a similar look and voice.) She and Middleditch have a breezy
chemistry, and though their relationship hits recognizable beats, it’s a
smooth, engaging watch.
While Entanglement splashes—often
literally, as a water theme permeates the film—around in familiar territory,
the “You were almost my sister” set up and the back end of the story make the
movie stand out. After cute-ing it up for a bit, the narrative shifts and an
almost Memento-style psychological mystery drives the
final act. To say more than that does the film a disservice—go in as cold as
you can—but the intricate groundwork laid early on pays off.
Entanglement doesn’t break the indie
rom-com mold, but it warps the framework enough to provide intrigue. The
everything-is-connected ending may be a bit too tidy, but James’ film never
takes the most obvious direction, and the result is a modest, enjoyable
charmer. [Grade: B-]
This is a reprint of a review originally published
during the 2017 Seattle Film Festival, where Entanglement held its world