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In terms of independent shoe-gazer films, there’s no shortage to choose from with comedians in melancholy performances. The genre is a host of plucky, quirky stories of young people in personal crises and yet many find strength in developing powerful characters that make them far more authentic than their big budget counterparts. With Joshy, these essential ingredients are there, and there is no lack for sentiment, but it comes up short in delivering the impact it promises.
Josh (Thomas Middleditch) and his fiancé Rachel (Alison Brie) seem happy but before we can really know them, Josh comes home to a terrible, frightful truth. Now on his own, in depression, his two closest friends decide to continue on with the planned bachelor party at a rented home in Ojai, California where the deposit is non-refundable. Meant to be an all boy’s weekend, it grows as other’s join, some strangers to others, and for a few days conflicts and growth bind and separate them.
The movie populates itself with a host of broken but genuine people who are all suffering or facing personal issues that all come into play with each meant to give weight and balance to the theme that life goes on and is an independent experience. What is happening to Joshy and how must his friends help him? Does he even want to be helped? These are some troubling questions that have his friends at odds when they arrive at the house, with Ari (Adam Pally) and Adam (Alex Ross Perry) initially content to simply ride out the weekend in peace, letting Josh do what we wants.
But then comes Eric (Nick Kroll), a party boy who believes Josh needs a good time and so he invites Greg (Brett Gelman), an eccentric loose cannon, to join. Soon after, Ari meets Jodi (Jenny Slate) at a bar and soon complications arise and they end up all more shut down then living it up. These are people that really shouldn’t be in the same room together, but with Josh loosely knitting them together, they find threads to keep tied and in turn grow as a group.
Written and directed by Jeff Baena, this is anything but a bachelor party in the traditional movie sense. Yes, there is a lot of drinking, plenty of drugs, beautiful girls, and even a hot tub, but none of it is layered in the usual chaotic zaniness you might expect. This is a somber, introspective film with some unexpected turns that mostly work, swinging from broader dark comedy to some serious problematic issues, led by a strong performance from Middleditch and some supporting work by a bevy of comedy names that find some nice moments.
The truth about Rachel is called into question a number of times but the film purposefully sidesteps the larger answer, interested more in the impact she had on those who knew her. Josh is the conduit for this, a shaken but coping young man who is drained by the loss and the questions that surround that loss, barely holding on as his friends contend with their own failing relationships. It’s a nice bit of work by Middleditch who knows he is the central figure in this melodrama but allows himself to be the focus by spending much of the time in quiet reserve.
While the film is never dull, there is no sense of identity to these people beyond their exteriors, Josh included. While that is a narrative choice, the lack of depth makes any investment in Rachel almost impossible, let alone the people who have come together because of her. Tonal issues hamper the emotional impact of a crucial and highly effective moment by Middleditch late in the film simply because it’s utterly unexpected given the direction the story has been headed. Finding balance between an earthy sex worker and her love a man’s ape hands with the all too startling implication made by Rachel’s parents (in a nice cameo by Lisa Edelstein and Paul Reiser) is jarring and makes it hard to know what the movie wants of its audience.
Still, there’s no saying enough about Middleditch and while Joshy has its flaws, there is plenty here to make this sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes funny, yet always interesting film worth watching. Life goes on.
Director: Jeff Baena
Writer: Jeff Baena
Stars: Thomas Middleditch, Adam Pally, Alex Ross Perry, Nick Kroll, Jenny Slate
Genre: Drama, Comedy