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The Answer Man
2 reviews

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Movie Details

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Directed By
John Hindman

Written By:
John Hindman

Jeff Daniels, Lauren Graham, Lou Taylor Pucci, Robert Bizik, Anthony C. Brown, Garrett Ching, Annie Corley, Kat Dennings, Nora Dunn, Tony Hale, Lauren Emily Jacobs, Peter Patrikios, Thomas Roy, Olivia Thirlby, Sonny Vellozzi, Jennifer Wiener, John Wooten, Brandon Hanson, Richard Barlow, David Adam Smith, Max Antisell, David Mulholland, Max Antisell, Chrismandu

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The Answer Man (2009)
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Movie Review by Jarrod
July 27th, 2009

'The Answer Man' is quite similar to James L Brooks's As Good As It Gets, with Jeff Daniels in the Jack Nicholson role, and Lauren Graham in the Helen Hunt role. It is a pleasant enough film, with smart, occasionally funny dialogue, not to mention gratuitous profanity, which is where the R rating comes from. 20 years ago, Arlen Faber (Daniels) wrote a spiritual self-help book called Me & God, which became an international bestseller. It made him into a sought-after guru of sorts, but no one has ever seen him.

He is a reclusive misanthrope, who remains locked away in his Philadelphia townhouse, speaking only with his irritable agent, Terry Fraser (Nora Dunn), who has to contend with the fact that Arlen refuses to make public appearances to promote his magnum opus, which many believe was the result of actual conversations he had with God. When he throws out his back, he has to crawl to the local chiropractor, Elizabeth (Graham), who has just opened her office.

He is immediately smitten with her. She has no idea who he is, but her secretary Anne (Olivia Thirlby) does. Arlen has chosen to live anonymously, to seal himself off from the world, and rudely dismisses his fans and admirers, like that pesky but well-meaning mailman. He really is an insufferable prick. Elizabeth, however, is intrigued, and charmed by him, which is why she agrees to a dinner date, and introduces Arlen to her seven-year-old son Alex (Max Antisell).

Arlen has a collection of monster movie memorabilia, and reveals many sensitive personal details to Elizabeth, like that his father died after struggling for years with Alzheimer's Disease, which may help to explain his bitterness and visible lack of emotion or concern for fellow humans, such as the troubled young book store owner Kris Lucas (Lou Taylor Pucci), recently out of AA, and trying to stay sober.

Kris's store is about to go under, since his assistant Dahlia (Kat Dennings) lost the key and did not open it for 27 days, while Kris was in rehab. Kris seeks advice from Arlen, asking him questions about life, the universe, and numerous other topics. He does not get very encouraging or enlightening answers. Arlen makes many intelligent observations, says what he feels or thinks to be true, and does not dress it up in polite or courteous language.

The primary focus is on Arlen's relationship with Elizabeth, and while Daniels and Graham are both terrific, they do have poor chemistry, mostly because of the way their romance has been envisioned by writer-director John Hindman. There is no "romance"; Arlen is not capable of expressing genuine affection, but he does open up to Elizabeth, and she is caring and responsive, even while he remains selfish and oblivious to her problems. His gradual change of heart, his renewed enthusiasm for human interaction, should come as no surprise.

Daniels gets some juicy, acerbic, and witty lines, and his performance is both entertaining, and incredibly subtle, never flashy or overdone, as it so easily could have been. The weak link is Pucci, whose Kris is not a terribly interesting character, most of his scenes struck me as maudlin, and unnecessary. Hindman also wastes the talents of two gifted young actresses, underutilized here. Kat Dennings, from Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, and Olivia Thirlby, from Juno. A better, more satisfying Daniels vehicle is The Squid and the Whale.

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