starring David Schwimmer, Janeane Garofalo, Judah Friedlander, Susan Lynch
written and directed by Matt Mulhern
by Walter Chaw David Schwimmer goes the grimy indie route for actor-turned-director Matt Mulhern's sophomore feature Duane Hopwood, finding himself an alcoholic pit boss in Atlantic City about to lose custody of his two daughters to ex-wife Linda (Janeane Garofalo). Duane (Schwimmer) takes in aspiring stand-up comedian Anthony (Judah Friedlander) as a roommate/sidekick in the mold of Friedlander's previous role as a lovable spaz in American Splendor, their travails building to an unlikely custody hearing and an even unlikelier climax at one of Anthony's gigs as Duane, hopped-up on scotch and mescaline, goes blithely off the edge. Salvaging the rudimentary motions of this broken family drama, however, is a surprising turn by Schwimmer, who blunts his trademark whinging nebbish persona to turn in a human performance, if not necessarily an assured one. His Duane approaches three dimensions (likewise Garofalo, shoehorned into the thankless role of inconstant ex), struggling against the constraints of what's essentially a formula picture. He's fine, but Duane Hopwood is flat and uninvolving for long stretches, hurt by jokes that fall flat and the over-familiarity of this story, as well as by a strange kind of desperation/pretension (a shopping cart overturned in the dreary New Jersey surf; a poignant bike escort to punctuate a sad goodbye). It doesn't help that the film culminates in two Thanksgiving dinner tableaux that seem, obliquely, to reward Duane for driving drunk with his daughter in the backseat and threatening mom's new boyfriend with a baseball bat while punishing Linda's reasonable desire to support her spawn with a McDinner in her newly-displaced life with her kids and knucklehead beau (John Krasinski). Originally published: November 18, 2005.