To call “7 Chinese Brothers” featherweight would be an injustice to feathers. Only completist admirers of Jason Schwartzman’s misfit gallery need trouble with this perilously thin tale of a guy who runs through a couple of low-end jobs and … well, that’s about it, actually. Proving once again that “quirky” alone isn’t enough, Bob Byington’s tiny character study will be making a quick transition to modest download sales.
Schwartzman’s Larry lives along with his primarily sleep-focused pug (the actor’s own dog, Arrow Schwartzman) in Austin, where he spends most of his time seeking liquid and pill-form escape from presumed life complaints the film can’t be bothered to elucidate. When he’s caught imbibing one day at the restaurant where he works, he’s fired, which barely ruffles Larry’s perpetually underwhelmed demeanor.
Discovering that his ratty automobile requires servicing, Larry impulsively applies for a job at Quick Lube, for no reason beyond crushing on manager Lupe (Eleanore Pienta). She, however, proves more interested in his best/only friend Norwood (Tunde Adebimpe), who works at the rest home where Larry’s only surviving relative resides. Olympia Dukakis lends a certain gruff oomph to her scenes as Grandma, who can’t figure out why her grandson doesn’t want to make anything of his life.
The film is otherwise full of potentially amusing characters who are given almost nothing to do, leaving their actors poised like runners at the start of a race — ready, but waiting for a signal that never comes. Schwartzman comes up with some amusing throwaway performance riffs, but he’s done petulant ennui before with much better material. Though they had their own problems sustaining interest in offbeat narrative premises, Byington’s prior features (including “RSO” and “Somebody Up There Likes Me”) nonetheless had better conceptual hooks to fritter away. “Brothers’” script hardly provides enough to hang a short on.
Packaging is competent if undistinguished. It’s a testimony to pic’s inertia that even a number of excellent vintage alt-rock cuts soundtracked (including REM’s titular 1984 one) fail to lend much-needed energy.
SXSW Film Review: '7 Chinese Brothers'
Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (Narrative Spotlight), March 17, 2015. Running time: 75 MIN.
A Faliro House and 8750 Films production. Produced by Molly Christie Benson, Seana Flanagan, Nancy Schafer. Executive producers, Christos Konstantakopoulos.
Directed, written by Bob Byington. Camera (color, HD), Adam Ginsberg; editor, Leah Marino; music, Chris Baio; production designer, Jake Kuykendall; art director, Sean White; set decorator, Fabian Valdez; costume designer, Lily Walker; sound, Greg Armstrong; re-recording mixer, Chris Keyland; assistant director, Britni West; casting, Jeanne McCarthy.
Jason Schwartzman, Olympia Dukakis, Tunde Adebimpe, Eleanore Pienta, Stephen Root, Jimmy Gonzales, John Gatins, Jonathan Togo, Josh Meyer, Ted Beck, Chris Doubek, Grover Coulson, Alex Karpovsky.