|The Baxter (2005)
Starring: Michael Showalter, Elizabeth Banks, Michelle Williams, Justin Theroux, Michael Ian Black, Paul Rudd
Director: Michael Showalter
There’s a reason why romantic comedies seem so one-dimensional: the leading man always gets the girl. But what happens to the nice, dependable guy who’s left at the altar when the hero shows up to sweep the beautiful bride-to-be off her feet? The State-alum Michael Showalter aims to answer that question with his directorial debut, “The Baxter,” a unique and unconventional film that tries to emulate the romantic comedies of the 1930’s and 40’s. Unfortunately, Showalter is by no means a Jimmy Stewart-type, and he horribly miscasts himself as the lead, lacking the acting chops necessary to carry the story. “The Baxter” is likely to come and go from small art house cinemas over the next few months, but for those that do get the chance to catch it won’t be horribly disappointed, thanks in part to the film’s impressive supporting cast and sharp comedic script.
Elliot Sherman (Showalter) is what his grandmother refers to as a “Baxter,” or the guy that never gets the girl no matter how much a sure thing he may be. And the term certainly applies to the good-hearted Elliot, who has been robbed of countless partners by their more attractive and much more romantic ex-boyfriends. Until he meets Caroline (Elizabeth Banks), a beautiful magazine editor who may not exactly love him, but still accepts his marriage proposal nonetheless. And just when Elliot thinks that his lifelong dream will finally be fulfilled, Caroline’s old high school flame Bradley (Justin Theroux) returns home to win her back. Elliot probably shouldn’t be so troubled over the situation. He’s got a cute office temp named Cecil (Michelle Williams) who’s openly flirting with him, but he’s too naïve to believe that she wants more than just a friendship.
“The Baxter” is indeed a comedy, but don’t expect to be laughing out loud very much. If you’re familiar with any of Showalter’s past work, like “Wet Hot American Summer” or the Comedy Central series “Stella,” then you’ll know that his comedic style feels a lot more like a small group of skits stitched together rather than a traditional narrative. Still, it’s very cleverly written, and the audience is bound to enjoy the material for its nerdy wackiness. Showalter is still no leading man, though. He can be rather annoying to watch for extended periods, and it looks as if he’s either really tired or just been punched in both eyes.
It’s a godsend, then, that the rest of his casting decisions weren’t complete washouts. As the two beauties of the film, Williams is an absolute joy to watch as the frumpy temp, and Banks (who can also currently be seen in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”) finally gets the chance to show off her acting skills. Even more enjoyable is Justin Theroux, who somehow manages to make Bradley one of the most likeable jerks in film history, as well as the long list of commendable cameos by fellow “Stella” stars Michael Ian Black and David Wain, resident scene stealer Paul Rudd, and the short but talented Peter Dinklage as a gay wedding planner. And when it comes down to it, the film itself is a lot like a Baxter. It probably won’t sweep you off your feet, but it has the good intention to entertain you while you’re waiting for something better.