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Bruised Almighty

MOVIE REVIEW
The Answer Man (2009)

3
Magnolia Pictures

Jeff Daniels, a tremendously under-appreciated actor, gets one of his best roles as the lead in “The Answer Man,” a quirky romantic comedy from first time writer-director John Hindman. The actor is the primary reason to see the picture, a charming albeit slight piffle of the sort that routinely gets overpraised by the Sundance Film Festival, where it debuted.

The actor plays Arlen Faber, a confused man living a profoundly contradictory life. Professionally, he’s the author of a spiritual tome called “Me and God” that’s so popular and widely read that it has inspired academic treatises and best-selling interpretations. Personally, he’s a mess; living a curmudgeonly, anonymous existence. The movie tells the story of his maturation, as he opens up to the possibilities of romance, the value of human connections and the fact that it’s okay to not have all the answers.

Mr. Hindman gives Mr. Daniels a host of great moments, stretching from scenes of deadpan slapstick to quiet emotional feeling. He and co-star Lauren Graham, who plays Arlen's love interest, carry the film. Their relationship develops in a wholly unexpected fashion, as any between an unhappy guru and a single mom probably should. It’s hard to not be moved by the specter of a deadened man slowly coming to life, learning just how much more manageable the world’s troubles seem when there’s someone to share them with.

While the film — which unfolds in a lovingly photographed Philadelphia comprised of townhouses, hip small boutiques and picturesque parks — periodically threatens to veer into extreme cutesy indie territory, Mr. Daniels and Ms. Graham keep it grounded. The subplots don’t all work, and the narrative is a bit too heavily oriented towards genre clichés, but the film never seems anything less than completely authentic. The actors project such naturalistic warmth as each plays off the other’s vulnerabilities and strengths that one believes fully in the characters and hopes they’re able to share their lives together. In other words, “The Answer Man” fulfills the primary test of this sort of character-driven venture: It makes us care.

THE ANSWER MAN

Opens on July 24 in Manhattan.

Written and directed by John Hindman; director of photography, Oliver Bokelberg; edited by Jerry Greenberg; production designer, Alex Digerlando; produced by Kevin Messick; released by Magnolia Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes. This film is rated R.

WITH: Jeff Daniels (Arlen Faber), Lauren Graham (Elizabeth), Lou Taylor Pucci (Kris Lucas), Olivia Thirlby (Anne), Kat Dennings (Dahlia) and Nora Dunn (Terry Fraser).

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