As we close in on October 31, AiPT! will be reviewing and recommending various pieces of underappreciated scary media–books, comics, movies, and television–to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.
Before it lost its way, Parks and Recreation was one of television’s funniest shows. Along with introducing America to Pawnee, Illinois and its wacky citizens, it also helped further the career of many of its cast. Aziz Ansari, Aubrey Plaza, and Chris Pratt have all gone on to starring roles while Rob Lowe decided to hunt ghosts! In 2016, Jim O’Heir (Jerry on Parks and Rec) starred in Middle Man.
Middle Man does not get off to a good start in more ways than one. The audience is immediately introduced to Lenny (O’Heir), a CPA whose mother has recently passed away. Lenny decides to move to Las Vegas to become a stand-up comedian. During Lenny’s drive, he has the occasional odd encounter, listens to cassette tapes of comedy legends like George Burns and Abbott and Costello, and attempts to write material for his act. The film almost seems to be challenging its audience to try to continue watching as almost everything that happens seems pointless.
The one thing the first part of the movie does well is illustrate that Lenny is not a funny person. His sense of humor is stuck in the early part of the twentieth century. He does, however, makes many intentionally funny comments throughout the movie. People laugh at but never with him. This plays into the movie’s premise that “everybody is a comedian.” It seems like everyone except for Lenny has a quick comeback or amusing joke.
After about thirty minutes Middle Man finally becomes interesting. At this point, the writing defnitely improves. On the way to Las Vegas, Lenny passes through Lamb Bone, Nevada, a sort of The Twilight Zone town. It seems that once you arrive in Lamb Bone, you can never leave. This leads to a sense of near hopelessness and utter frustration for the viewer, and for Lenny. The characters in the town add to this feeling of trapped isolation. More than one character pines for Las Vegas that they can never get to. The paranoid feeling and uneasy sense of reality of Middle Man continues to its end, especially in the final minutes. While the climax does come off as a rushed, it does fit into the narrative of the film.
Middle Man does not have a large cast of characters and each is used to their maximum potential. Even minor characters have an important part to play in the narrative. The cast also serves to flesh out freakiness that is Lamb Bone. The characters all seem to have a defeatist attitude that seem to make Lenny’s dream event more unlikely. It is a pleasant surprise to see every character used efficiently to further its plot.
Middle Man is Lynchian in many ways. Comedy is written very well into this movie. It’s never over the top or distracting. Much like David Lynch, writer and director Ned Crowley expertly weaves humor into moments that should not be funny. The off-beat characters are also very Lynchian. Most familiar might be the opening shot of a someone driving down a winding road at night.
O’Heir does a great job in the movie. Lenny is a pitiful hero that is easy to get behind. Andrew J. West as Hitch is not as good, however. He looks like the love child of Dave Navarro and David Arquette, and makes the most cliché pseudo-philosophical statements this side of Ricky Fitts. He is supposed to be some kind of threat, but is more annoying than truly dangerous.
Middle Man is an interesting movie. It does a great job of fusing dark comedy into a tension filled story. Lenny’s tale seems like a predictable one, but it manages to deliver twists and turns. In the end, it overcomes some early pacing issues to become a very entertaining movie.