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Tribeca Review: ‘The Shallow Tale of a Writer Who Decided to Write about a Serial Killer’

One of the key challenges of being a writer is choosing the right words. It’s therefore somewhat ironic that Tolga Karacelik’s story of an author who really isn’t all that good should choose such a lengthy and cumbersome title, one that perhaps represents its protagonist’s inability to coherently convey what he actually knows rather than what he mistakenly thinks will be interesting to readers. The result is clunky but still laden with laughs, an odd specimen that at times does prove truly entertaining.

Keane (John Magaro) is one of those people who just doesn’t know how to read the room. He’s asked a few simple questions about his next book at a dinner party and chooses to elaborate after everyone has lost interest, prompting his wife Suzie (Britt Lower) to coldly point out once they’re alone that they were laughing at him rather than with him. She’s had enough and wants a divorce, which shocks a clueless John. It also coincides with his perhaps not-so-chance meeting with a fan of his who wants to offer him a direct pipeline into a line of work readers should find fascinating: the life of a (retired) serial killer.

This film is best described as a comedy that makes use of thriller scenarios to heighten its humor, never truly frightening but definitely creepy at moments designed to engage the audience before startling them with a joke instead of a jump scare. That’s a tactic that often works but is also jolting and disorienting, resulting in two separate films that come together, the comedy the more effective one than the seemingly aimless thriller. They do remain, however, one film, meaning that it’s impossible to enjoy the humor without the base of the dramatic setup.

What’s truest about this film is that there likely isn’t anyone other than Steve Buscemi who would have been as perfect for the role of Kollmick, the very suspicious man who approaches Keane in a restaurant and offers him the access of a lifetime. He’s played weird characters before and especially villains with some personality in fare like Fargo and Reservoir Dogs, and the delivery of all of his lines sets a deliberately awkward tone for everything that stretches throughout the film. Buscemi is naturally funny and this film knows just how to use him to the maximum effect.

Magaro, whose mild-mannered disposition has helped him anchor films like First Cow and Laroy, Texas brings a nervousness and pathetic quality to Keane, who thinks people like him much more than they do and is really headed nowhere. He’s well-paired with Buscemi, mainly because of the way in which they bounce ridiculous dialogue off each other as Kollmick tries to direct Keane to do something and, when Keane pretends Kollmick is a marriage counselor he found to help salvage his relationship, Kollmick proves hopelessly impossible to control.

The real standout of this film, however, far more memorable than either of its male leads, is Lower. The star of the Apple TV+ series Severance and also present this year at Tribeca with another film, Darkest Miriam, Lower is so phenomenally emotionless throughout the film that, as her character gets a new arc, she turns out to be its most worthwhile and tremendously watchable asset. Her command of deadpan comedy is excellent, and it’s an unassuming turn that only gets more fun as the film progresses. Unfortunately, she’s not in every scene, making this film an uneven bag, one with the promise of greatness that doesn’t have the most fully developed or well-rounded story to encase some admittedly funny and memorable moments.

Movie Rating: 6/10

Awards Buzz: While Buscemi is a multi-Emmy nominee (with a win for producing his short form variety series Park Bench with Steve Buscemi), awards love hasn’t tended to follow Magaro or Lower even for their highly-acclaimed projects. This film’s tone may be a stretch for some, but if it does land well, it could earn some attention.

Author

  • Abe Friedtanzer

    Abe Friedtanzer is a film and TV enthusiast who spent most of the past fifteen years in New York City. He has been the editor of MoviesWithAbe.com and TVwithAbe.com since 2007, and has been predicting the Oscars, Emmys, Golden Globes, and SAG Awards since he was allowed to stay up late enough to watch them.

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