Sunday, January 20, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Why Stop Now (2012) **½

R, 85 min.
Directors/Writers: Phil Dorling, Ron Nyswaner
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Melissa Leo, Tracy Morgan, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Sarah Ramos, Emma Rayne Lyle, Stephanie March, Tanya Wright 

“Why Stop Now” is one of those movies that has all the right elements, but just doesn’t work for some reason. I can’t put my finger on just what it is that brings this movie down. Perhaps it’s a lack of passion. Perhaps it doesn’t succeed in investing us in its characters well enough. Whatever it is, there is much to appreciate here.

It follows a mother and son, who are both substance abusers, over the course of one eventful day that starts with an attempt to check the mother into a rehabilitation program. They won’t let her in because she doesn’t have insurance, but if she can produce a dirty sample of urine to prove she is using, they will. A doctor tells her off the record to go out and get high to get around the insurance issue. I find this to be a sadly plausible development and a rather funny dilemma.

The son is a gifted pianist, although his home life makes such a talent a bit of a miracle. His music teacher has scheduled an audition for a notable Boston music conservatory. Since he now must help his mother score a fix, will he be able to make his audition and will he be able to perform at peak level? I like this set up a lot.

With its laid back style and dysfunctional characters, “Why Stop Now” reminded me a great deal of the often overlooked Michael Douglas movie “Wonder Boys” in which he played a substance abusing college professor highly admired by his student despite the mess of a life he lives. What that movie has that “Why Stop Now” is lacking, I can’t say. Michael Douglas?

I don’t think that’s it because it does have a surprisingly strong cast. Jesse Eisenberg and Melissa Leo, both Oscar nominees, Leo a winner, play the son and mother. Tracy Morgan is surprisingly controlled and quite good as the mother’s drug dealer. I guess its main problem is that nothing much really happens over the course of the day beyond getting the drugs and the son’s audition. A great many things complicate those events, but nothing much is really discovered by the end of it all. The son is a great musician. The mother is a mess of a person. The son is obviously headed down the same path. And that’s about it.  I want to say you should see it, but I’m afraid many people would disagree, including myself. I’m just not sure why.

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