Movie Review: 7 Chinese Brothers

Jason Schwartzman as Larry in “7 Chinese Brothers”

The title is definitely quirky. But will this quirk … work?

By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)

Per the press notes on 7 Chinese Brothers, writer/director Bob Byington stated that Olympia Dukakis “felt the part wasn’t big enough for her.” Oh my. Why she ever accepted the role in this embarrassingly limp project is puzzling enough. Yet the fact that she wanted an even bigger part is outright stupefying. How is that even possible? Perhaps Byington should have made a movie out of that …

As it stands, this film – written in 2001 – has about as much to offer as a drunk, tone-deaf fellow who can’t quite read the lyrics on the screen at a Karaoke bar. Painful. And yet, this Karaoke scene is one in a seemingly never-ending series of useless scenarios that underlie the fact that this is movie is about nothing. Not the Seinfeld-ian “show about nothing” but, in fact, a film truly about nothing. How 7 Chinese Brothers got a distribution deal probably owes its luck to the fact that Byington somehow snagged Jason Schwartzman for the lead. How did that happen? Perhaps Byington should have made a movie out of that …

We’re supposed to care about a greasy-haired, aging slacker-boy Larry (Schwartzman) who sucks on 44-ounce big gulps that are laced with prodigious amounts of alcohol. Who sort of meanders to work, who sort of doesn’t concern himself with women or survival or any thought to tomorrow. And yet: He’s not an idiot. He’s not suicidal. Though his jokes are stale, he tells them with a certain spark. He speaks as if he’s had some education … even though Byington can’t be bothered with any more of a back story other than the fact that Larry’s only living relative is his grandmother (Dukakis). Begging the question: Who’s the real slacker here? Larry? Or filmmaker Byington? Perhaps Byington should have made a movie out of that …

The sort-of story looks at a few weeks in the life of Larry. After he’s fired from his bartender job for stealing, he visits Grandma at the retirement home. And will do so a few times. He hangs out with a nursing home attendant named Norwood (Tunde Adebimpe). And will do so a few times. He wanders into a Quick Lube, likes the girl behind the desk (a winning Eleanore Pienta), and talks his way into a job. There will be more work issues and worse, Larry may not get the girl. Wait, is this a plot spoiler? Um, no, because there needs to be a plot before one can actually spoil it.

Arrow Schwartzman and Jason Schwartzman in “7 Chinese Brothers”

The one bright spot is Larry’s French bulldog Arrow (played by Schwartzman’s own dog Arrow), who snorts and sighs and all but rolls his eyes in annoyance at the lifeless goings-on. We are Arrow; Arrow is us.

Since Larry frequently has one-sided conversations with Arrow, the dog is a convenient device that allows us to hear his master’s innermost feelings. Not that it matters; they’re not particularly revelatory. Larry harbors such a bare sliver of interior life that whether he’s talking to the dog, or Norwood, or his grandmother, Larry is just simply Larry.

We know it’s bad when the one scene in which Larry is washing Arrow in the bathtub is a great delight. It’s all but reminiscent of the joy we feel when we allow ourselves to escape from bone-crushingly dull work for a few minutes by firing up a cute animal video on YouTube. Though Arrow’s scrub-a-dub-in-the-tub scene doesn’t further the plot, at least it breaks up the day or, in this case, the film.

Schwartzman gives us another of his sweet, well-meaning adolescent fellows who are intrinsically out of step, valiantly trying to grow into a man’s shoes without tripping. However, as solid as he is, Schwartzman can’t rescue even one of the 7 Chinese Brothers.

Byington appears to have created this film for an audience of Larrys, those not-so-young men who haven’t a clue as to what they’re supposed to do with their lives. And this could have been a fascinating construct if the dialogue was compelling, if the ideas were intriguing, if the characters had depth, and if the scenes had any zip whatsoever. But 7 Chinese Brothers comes up with zilch from start to finish. Perhaps Byington should have made a movie out of that … oh, damn, he did.

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Rating on a scale of 5 pink slips: 1.5

Release date: August 28, 2015 (Theatrical, VOD & Digital)
Written and Directed by: Bob Byington
Cast: Jason Schwartzman, his dog Arrow, Tunde Adebimpe, Eleanore Pienta, Olympia Dukakis
Running Time: 76 minutes
Not Rated

Here’s the trailer:

About Kimberly Gadette

Film critic Kimberly Gadette, born and raised in movie-centric L.A., believes celluloid may very well be a part of her DNA. Having received her BA and MFA from UCLA's School of Theater, Film & Television, she spent many of her formative years as an actress (film, tv, commercials, stage) before she literally changed perspective, finding a whole new POV from the other side of the camera. You can find her last 500+ reviews on Rotten Tomatoes (www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/kimberly-gadette/). Other than taking the occasional side trip to Cannes or Sundance, you can find her at the movies ... sitting in the dark as usual.

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