Monday, August 04, 2008

Movie Log: Meet Bill

Aaron Eckhart is the title character, and the center, of the decent mid-life crisis dramedy Meet Bill. Somehow -- it doesn't seem to fit with their present-day selves -- Eckhart's Bill married Elizabeth Banks's Jess after being childhood sweethearts. Jess is the only daughter of John Jacoby, owner of the local bank and probably the richest guy in town. (Meet Bill doesn't tell us where it's set, but it feels like a small city somewhere in the north half of the US, where being the richest guy in town means something.) Jacoby gave Bill a high-paid but low-responsibility job at the bank, as head of HR, and Bill apparently settled in there for the long haul. Bill and Jess have no children, and it's never said how long they've been married -- Eckhart is actually slightly old for his part, since it makes the most sense if they're in their mid-thirties and married for about ten year.

But, as the movie starts, things aren't working anymore. Bill binges on hidden candy bars, feels the job as a stifling trap he can't get free of, and is consumed by a restless, neurotic energy. Meanwhile, Jess has started an affair with narcissistic newsman Chip (Timothy Olyphant). Bill suspects the affair, plants a camera, and secretly records Jess and Chip having sex. But then he confronts Jess and attacks Chip -- which ends up with him getting kicked out of the house and twice briefly in jail for assault.

That's one strand of this unbalanced movie's plot; the other half arises from Bill's relationship with a teenage boy he's supposed to mentor, a slick operator who is never named. (He's billed in the credits as The Kid, and played by Logan Lerman.) The Kid is also trying to seduce Lucy (Jessica Alba), who is a good decade older than he is and who works at not-Victoria's Secret. For unspecified reasons, Lucy doesn't completely reject The Kid, but seems to like him.

Meet Bill is a movie with a lot of plot, but it goes in all directions rather than moving forward; I haven't even mentioned Bill's brother, a former local football hero who now owns a huge sporting good store, or the brother's partner, who is one of The Kid's teachers. (Or Bill's brother-in-law, John Jr., who is mostly in the movie to look smugly privileged and insult Bill.)

Bill was trapped by a life he didn't want; he reacts violently to his wife's infidelity, but only because it's the final indignity -- everything he has (job, house), he got from her and her father, and now he doesn't even have her anymore. So he tries to figure out what he does want, grabbing onto a plan to buy a Sweet Sweet franchise (a donut chain that looks like the northern version of Krispy Kreme) to get a job that isn't dependent on his father-in-law. Scenes spin out of those various plot threads, and do a lot of obvious movie things, but don't move the story forward consistently.

Eckhart holds the movie together with a naturalistic performance, but Meet Bill is full of things that don't quite make sense and don't quite cohere. (The ages of all of the main characters are the worst offenders: fortyish Bill went to high school with thirtyish Jess, and twentysomething Lucy is presented as a possible romantic partner for both Bill and high school junior Kid.) All of the scenes in the final movie work as scenes, and most of the actors do a good job -- but, as a whole, Meet Bill is a midlife crisis movie that seems to keep changing its mind about Bill and what he's going to do. In particular, it has the kind of indy-movie ending that opens out without resolving the current situation, instead of actually sending Bill on to do something in particular.

See it for Eckhart, and see it particularly if you're married and in your middle years. But don't necessary expect to agree with Bill, or understand what he wants -- since he doesn't. And if, like me, you have a mania for responsibility tattooed on the inside of your skull, Bill will annoy and aggravate you at the same time you wish you had his freedom and options.

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