[14 September 2007]
A struggling Chicago actor/comedian is giving a career-day talk at an elementary school. He doesn’t get much past his introduction when he starts rambling. “Get this,” he tells the stone-faced kids about his latest television job. “It was supposed to be a funny show, but I made people cry. Isn’t that silly?”
James (Curb Your Enthusiasm‘s Jeff Garlin) is perpetually struggling. But he won’t make you cry in I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With. He’ll probably make you yawn. Garlin’s pet project with the unwieldy title feels terribly familiar, with its chatter about minutiae and throwback, accordion-heavy soundtrack making it seem like a Curb episode directed by Woody Allen.
But instead of neuroses that are black-tinged and deep-seated, most of Cheese‘s navel-gazing is genial to the point of being childlike. “Where’d the term ‘dealership’ come from?” James asks a receptionist when the reality show he hosts plays a joke on a mechanic. “What about tent sales? What is it about tents that make people want to buy cars?” With each scene change, you can picture Garlin cutting and pasting riffs he’s written over the years to form some semblance of a story. Occasionally they’re amusing; mostly, though, it’s like hanging out with someone who expresses every thought that comes to mind. Or a toddler who just learned how to ask questions.
Then again, perhaps that’s fitting, as the 39-year-old James still lives with mother. The other two things that are important to know about James are that he’s fat and looking for love. (If watching the plus-size actor in every scene isn’t enough to remind you about his weight, it’s mentioned at what feels like five-minute intervals.) He seems to find love but not a solution to his dieting problems when he meets Beth (Sarah Silverman), a “hot girl” who gives him her practice sundae when she’s watching her sister’s ice-cream shop—and soon, uh, asks him to go underwear-shopping with her. (He’s as incredulous as we are.) As quickly as Beth takes a liking to James, though, she turns distant, and then back to warm again.
Silverman is initially a bright spot in this dim film, but Beth is impossible to like. The same can be said of the majority of the well-connected Garlin’s guest stars: Second City alumni such as Bonnie Hunt, Amy Sedaris, and Dan Castellanata show up, though their main direction was apparently to act weird so Garlin could scrunch his eyebrows together at them. The women are given especially thankless “quirks” to mark them as either naggy or desperate. James’ neighbor (Henriette Mantel) repeatedly pops out into the hallway to ask where he’s been. A schoolteacher named Stella (Hunt) seems like a promising love interest until she unleashes a self-loathing tirade about loneliness and compulsive eating. And Sedaris plays a guidance counselor who for no reason whatsoever sits James down after his career-day speech, and ends her senseless talking-to with, “Do you think I’m pretty?”
James does little but meander from rejection to rejection throughout the film, dumped personally and professionally. None of these turns is given much explanation. Whenever someone tells James he’s a loser, he doesn’t raise more than an affable fuss over it, which makes his problems feel all the more contrived. Hearing about a remake of Marty for the Tiger Beat generation upsets him more than the idea that his life is tanking. This sub-sub-plot at least leads to Cheese‘s funniest scene, which involves a seconds-long upstaging by teen pop star Aaron Carter. Now that‘s silly.