Schwartzman’s Performance Hardly Redeems Lackluster “7 Chinese Brothers” IFFB: Independent Film Festival Boston Reviews
By Scott Kurland
Film: 7 Chinese Brothers
Starring: Jason Schwartzman, Stephen Root, Tunde Adebimpe, Eleanore Pienta, and Olympia Dukakis
Director: Bob Byington
Jason Schwartzman is part of Hollywood royalty. You don’t believe me? Let’s look at his uncle. That would be Francis Ford Coppola, the man who made “The Godfather” and “Apocalypse Now”. His cousins are Nic Cage, Sofia Coppola, and Roman Coppola. Yet, the big shocker is his mother, Adrien Balboa herself Talia Shire. Yes, the man comes from a powerful cinematic family, but that’s not why he’s famous. Schwartzman is one of the most talented mainstream/independent film actors working today. This week’s film, “7 Chinese Brothers” returns Schwartzman back to his indie roots, but is it any good? Let’s find out shall we?
“7 Chinese Brothers” is the story of Larry (Jason Schwartzman), a deadbeat slacker stuck in a dead end job. Luckily for Larry, he’s so bad at his job he gets fired. Larry’s life is boring. He spends most of his days talking to his French Bulldog, Arrow (Schwartzman’s real life dog Arrow.) To complicate his life even more, Larry’s crass Grandmother (Olympia Dukakis) and only living relative, is dying. Furthermore, she has a better relationship with Larry's friend/her male nurse (Tunde Adebimpe) than she does with Larry himself. things begin to look up when Larry starts to find a new love of work when he falls for his boss Lupe (Elanore Pienta). Still, the question remains: will Larry always be a slacker or can he truly change his ways?
Schwartzman is the only enjoyable part of this movie. He has always been a talented actor, ever since his debut in “Rushmore”. His ability to embrace every role he takes on is incredible. No matter what the role is, whether it’s Max Fischer or Larry, Schwartzman can convey empathy for every character he encompasses. As Larry, Schwartzman is very charismatic, but the entire film is Larry failing. And, to add insult to injury, his best friend Major gets everything Larry wants.
"7 Chinese Brothers" is supposed to be a cautionary tale about being too lazy and cruel. However Larry is so likable you don't want to see him fail. If you're going to make a film about a deadbeat loser, make him a total jerk who has potential to be forgiven. Don't make him a lovable slacker and then stomp on him. "Tootsie" worked because Dustin Hoffman play a self destructive actor who became our champion when he pretend to be a woman. "Groundhog Day" is the same idea. The world's rudest man, played by Bill Murray, becomes humble. Director Bob Byington should have made Schwartzman's Larry more intense and vulgar, then slowly morphed him into our hero. His one liners are funny and at times hilariously crude, but they get old fast. Schwartzman tries his best to carry this film, but there’s nothing for him to carry.
I didn’t know what to expect of this film when I first went into the screening. I had high hopes for this movie since the cast was exceptional, but I was rather disappointed by “7 Chinese Brothers.” I’ve seen this film a million times before. “7 Chinese Brothers” offers nothing new to this independent cinema formula. Bob Byington’s script is one dimensional. The dialog tries to be of its time and fresh, however it’s not original. If anything, its mean spirited towards its lead characters. The plot itself never really goes anywhere. Larry’s big epiphany tries to force itself on the audience with a climax that has no resolution for anyone in this film.
The film’s title “7 Chinese Brothers” comes from the R.E.M song of the same name. It doesn’t make sense to name the movie this considering there’s no reference to it at all in the movie. The filmmakers wedge the song into the closing credits, but it’s too late. You can’t name a film after a song you like. It has to fit into the context of the film, which it doesn’t in this particular case. Other films like “A Case Of You” and “Sweet & Lowdown” all have titles based on songs, but they make the film work with connections to Joni Mitchell and Jazz music. “7 Chinese Brothers” does not follow in the footsteps of that cinematic tradition.
“7 Chinese Brothers” left a bad taste in my mouth. For a film that’s only 76 minutes, it felt like an eternity to get through. Byington’s direction is all over the place and the editing doesn’t flow. Overall, it's Schwartzman’s performance that makes the film slightly enjoyable. The film isn’t terrible, but it’s also not very good. the supporting performances are, at best, passable. Sadly I can not recommend this film to anyone. In the screening I saw at the IFFB actress Eleanore Pienta was in attendance. Sadly, not even she could explain what the film was about. That’s a bad sign, if your lead actress can’t even explain the film she stars in, your film is in trouble. “7 Chinese Brothers” has no release date or rating at this time, but when it does open save your money.
REVIEW RATING: D+