Nothing on this planet with a cock attached to it is nice.
— Whisper (Jennifer Rau)
“I used to drink, I used to do drugs. I stopped. I’ve been clean for almost two years,” Taylor (Matthew Broderick) tells his shrink (Allan Wasserman). “I’ve already quite enough stuff. I don’t want to quit everything.” The doctor takes a breath, and on beat, wonders why Taylor’s coming to see him at all, if he honestly doesn’t want to quit. And with that, the scene cuts to the track, where Taylor is urging yet another losing horse to victory.
The first few minutes of Finding Amanda reveal: 1) Taylor is a liar; 2) Taylor is careless, and 3) Taylor is self-delusional. While all this might help him in his business — he writes sitcom scripts — it makes it very hard for him to maintain relationships, with his exasperated agent (Patrick Fischler), his trusting wife Lorraine (Maura Tierney), and his second-amendment-loving brother-in-law (Bill Fagerbakke). He keeps telling himself that he’s got everything under control, that he only feels depressed and needs an outlet because, in truth, the show “sucks.” He and Lorraine have worked out a system so he has no access to credit cards or checks, but still he finds ways to sneak off to gamble, then deny he’s done so.
When it appears that he’s run this routine once too often — in front of her sister’s home, Lorraine announces, “There’s this thing in a marriage called trust. We don’t have it” and sends him home alone to “figure out what you really want” — Taylor comes up with one more scheme. Armed with the knowledge that his 20-year-old niece Amanda (Brittany Snow) is in hooking in Vegas, he offers to go retrieve her and deliver her to a rehab center in Malibu, for a stay he promises to pay for. He has to call Lorraine four times to make his point, as she hangs up every time he gets to the word “Vegas.” As she reads it, this is what he “really wants.” As he tells to himself, the trip is not about him, but about the niece strung out on drugs and walking the streets.
Unsurprisingly, Taylor doesn’t last more than two minutes in Vegas before he’s inside a casino. The floor manager, Michael (Steve Coogan), is alarmed immediately, insisting he can’t front him any money even as he gives in. Here and elsewhere, the film underscores how Taylor’s addiction is enabled by people who know him, whether out of love, carelessness or greed. In phone call after phone call, Taylor deceives Lorraine, insisting that he’s not gambling but is instead searching for Amanda. She sighs, she knows better, and she tells him where to look for the girl. And so he goes.
Though Taylor plainly doesn’t think much beyond his next addict’s step, even he’s surprised when he finds Amanda, turning tricks near the bathrooms at the Aztec Casino. Bubbly and apparently sweet (“Everyone who wants to pay for a blow job wants to get it from someone who looks like she’s never done one,” she explains, “That’s my look”), she claims to be happy to see Uncle T and also to be where she is. He is, in turn, patently appalled that she doesn’t care that everyone knows what she’s doing: “Why should I care?” she says brightly, “It’s my job!” Taylor rides along with her after work, admiring her new car (“Isn’t it the best smell?” she beams), then waiting while she changes clothes in her new lavender-walled living room. Here Taylor chats with Amanda’s boyfriend Greg (Peter Facinelli), who’s sneaking another girl out the door as they arrive (“We gotta be equal,” he explains, “This flattens the playing field”). Even more striking than Greg’s bizarre moral sense is his careening between modes of handling Amanda. First, he claims she knows all about “the other chicks” and Taylor can speak up if he wants. A beat later, he’s threatening Taylor with bodily harm if he tells: “I’m fucking serious, asshole.”
While this behavior strikes Taylor as sociopathic, he’s unable to convince Amanda that her dreamboat is bilking her (for clothes, a new truck, and “heating and cooling” school tuition) and abusive to boot. Sounding a lot like Lorraine, she hopes that if only she loves him enough, Greg will become the ideal she thought he was when she first saw him. In the meantime, she maintains her own boundaries: she’s not a drug addict, but a victim (of her uncle’s sexual abuse) and a survivor (she’s granted a moment alone in a bathroom, crouched on the floor and smearing her mascara with tears as she ponders her sad state). Most often, Amanda puts on a great show (it’s only 20 minutes or less, she tells her uncle, and “So what if I have to let them jizz on my tits to get” their money?). Even as he lectures her, she sees through him, calling him on his own addictions, abuses of trust, and dishonesties. Too predictably, Amanda’s confessional monologue about her “first time” is performed essentially for no one, as Taylor is by then so high he can’t hear her. “When you do something like that,” she says, her face tilted up, “It’s who you are for the rest of our life. You could stop, but really what’s the point? You’re always gonna be that girl on her knees on the bathroom floor and you know it.”
Contrived as it is, this moment also grants Amanda one of her precious few moments apart from Taylor (even as he’s muttering on the bed beside her). And in this, the scene is bracing, for too much of Peter Tolan’s movie takes up Taylor’s self-absorption as if it’s actually interesting. His jig is up within the movie’s first 10 minutes, and whatever he thinks he’s figuring out by going to Vegas, finding his niece, apologizing — again and again — to Lorraine, well, the attentive viewer knows all that already, so his journey just seems prolonged.