Walking in Place, by Dan Heaton
The subgenre of films about grown men struggling with maturity is tricky because it risks losing the audience. Judd Apatow bypassed the obstacles through broad humor and gags, yet even that approach grew tired. It’s more challenging when filmmakers play the material straight. Will we want to spend 90 minutes with these guys? There needs to be a reason to keep watching. An actor like Chris Eigeman has the unique blend of dry wit and charm to make us follow any of his characters. That’s a rare combination. Writer/directors David Grodsky and Danny Jacobs (Humboldt County) are searching for a similar mix in Growing Up and Other Lies. The four friends at its center aren’t very good at being adults. They’re struggling with women, skipping out on jobs, and just enjoy messing with people. They aren’t sociopaths and are fairly normal, but the journey only works if we want to follow them.
Jake (Josh Lawson) is giving up his art career in New York City and preparing to move into his dad’s place in Ohio. His buddies aren’t thrilled with the idea. They join up for one last adventure —a 260-block walk across the city. Each friend embodies a different stock movie character. Rocks (Adam Brody) is about to become a father and doesn’t feel ready, Billy (Jacobs) is the group’s punching bag despite his financial success, and Gunderson (Wyatt Cenac) is a free spirit who cares about nothing. While visiting neighborhoods and bars from their past, the guys try to figure out their lives. Jake re-connects with his ex-girlfriend Tabitha (a convincing Amber Tamblyn) and starts questioning his departure. There’s an engaging story in here somewhere, but it’s watered down by the expected plot devices. When a character’s girlfriend is pregnant, there’s no question the baby will come before the day is over.
The success of each character closely aligns with each actor’s charisma. I’m inclined to like Adam Brody. Even when Rocks does bad things, he’s still less irritating than the others. Gunderson is hard to like but it’s difficult not to enjoy the attitude Wyatt Cenac brings to the guy. He can berate an old woman at a museum or mess up a dinner party but he’s still more engaging than the main character. It’s a challenge for Josh Lawson (House of Lies) because he’s tasked with playing the straight man. His quest just isn’t that interesting, so it’s hard to stay connected with it. Jake learns some things about himself by the end, yet they fit way too nicely into the formulaic box to be convincing.
This is a New York movie with scenes all over town and it should play better to audiences familiar with the city. A clever story device counts down the blocks towards their goal and keeps the mood light even when the guys are fighting. There are funny moments, especially when Rocks forces his friends to interact with his students. Jake’s conversation with a priest (30 Rock’s Scott Adsit) about his challenges also feels less forced than much of the material. There’s lightness to the dialogue that’s missing when the characters grow more introspective. The women don’t get much to do either. Rocks’ girlfriend Emma (Lauren Miller) has a strange scene discussing the birth that just makes her seem neurotic. Their conversation makes sense as we learn more about the relationship but it feels out of place at the time. Tamblyn makes Tabitha more interesting than what’s written on the page; she gets short shrift by the end, however.
Growing Up and Other Lies includes poignant moments that transcend the plot. A dinner party comment from an older guest about the myth of growing up contains real truth. We’re all trying to find childlike excitement within our lives at any age. That point is intriguing, but it’s barely present in much of this film. The themes of facing adulthood are there but they’re stuck inside a lot of conventional material. The journey across town impacts several characters’ lives significantly yet doesn’t truly strike a powerful chord. When a major revelation near the end creates a muted response, it isn’t a good sign.