The Good: Decent performances, Some good lines
The Bad: Oppressive mood, Predictable character moments, Direction
The Basics: Failing to straddle the line between comedy and drama effectively, Why Stop Now? is more unpleasant to watch than it is entertaining.
I am a fan, in general, of the recent trend in movies and television that blurs the lines between drama and comedy. The rise of the dramedy - dramas with some truly hilarious lines or comedies with some punchy characters or hard-hitting lines - hit the mainstream with the widespread success of The West Wing (reviewed here!) and nothing proves how hard it is to find the right balance between humor and drama like a work that does not do it well. Why Stop Now? certainly falls into that category.
Why Stop Now? is too awkward and painful to watch throughout the bulk of the film to actually appreciate the hilarious outbursts and funny lines when they do come up. The film is hampered by characters who are (once again) supposed to be smart people, but overlook the most obvious, simple, and intelligent solutions to their problems. After alienating the audience thoroughly, the film transitions into an occasionally hilarious, sometimes heartwarming, but still painfully awkward movie that the viewer has to fight to sit through.
Opening with Eli Bloom arriving, almost late, to a piano audition, the film flashes back to the night before. At a local college party, Eli gets so drunk that when he tries to play the piano, he throws up next to it, in front of the young woman he has had a crush on for years, Chloe. Eli then returns home to his mother. This is the day he is putting her in rehab and after dropping his younger sister off at school, they head to C.A.M.P. to enroll Penny. Penny, however, has a problem; she's not high when she gets to rehab and she does not have insurance. So, she is told to come back with dirty urine and under those circumstances, a bed can be made available to her.
In the quest to get his mother drugs, Eli visits her dealer, Sprinkles. Sprinkles is trying to restock his drug business, but his usual translator is no longer with him. Eli steps in as a translator to help negotiate the deal for the drugs that will get his mother into rehab. However, in negotiating for the drugs, he is shoved and cuts his hand badly, which jeopardizes his one chance to get away from his addict mother and get into the music conservatory of his dreams.
Why Stop Now? is seriously hampered by a fundamental problem that none of the characters seem smart enough to figure out. When Penny is told she needs to fail a urine test to get into rehab, Eli becomes obsessed with getting drugs in her system. Penny does not need drugs in her system; she just needs the urine of any drug user she can find. Or to bribe the admitting clerk to mark that she did fail her drug test. Here the direction of the film works vastly against the plot; we are shown Penny taking her drug test and it would have been absolutely simple for her to smuggle in a dirty urine sample. That this solution occurs to none of the characters is one of the earliest, gut-wrenchingly irksome decisions one of the people on screen makes that pulls the viewer out of the film.
The obscure film is headlined by Jesse Eisenberg and Melissa Leo, both of whom are often far more impressive in their performances than in Why Stop Now?. Eisenberg feels like he is playing his version of Mark Zuckerberg from The Social Network (reviewed here!) without a similar level of diction and while sleepwalking through the part. Melissa Leo is convincing as Penny, which I did not fully realize until I started writing this sentence. Yeah, she's good; she's convincing and she sells the wacky, wacked-out role with her whole body, voice and performance. Perhaps the best contrast to her performance is that of Sarah Ramos as Chloe; Ramos is given an understated part and she seems like she tries to get by by delivering her lines and smiling (as opposed to actually embodying a character). To Ramos's defense, it does not seem like Chloe was given a truly substantive role in the film Why Stop Now?.
What makes Why Stop Now? at all watchable (when it is) is the patter between Sprinkles and Black. Tracy Morgan and Isiah Whitlock, Jr. have absolutely amazing comic timing between them with Whitlock nailing many of the best deliveries with his stern, focused, presentation. Morgan is not playing a ridiculous parody of himself and Whitlock is given the space to both deliver great lines and play off Morgan without simple being a comedic straightman. The result is a few moments of true comedic gold.
It is, however, not enough to justifying sitting through Why Stop Now?. The film is just too inconsistent and dark to be enlightening, entertaining, or evoke empathy.
For other works with Stephanie March, please visit my reviews of:
The Invention Of Lying
Mr. And Mrs. Smith
For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!
© 2015 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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