Answers to Nothing Dir. Matthew Leutwyler

[Roadside Attractions; 2011]

Styles: drama
Others: Crash, Magnolia

There’s no one more difficult to interact with than the person who thinks they’re profound. On some level, everyone thinks their perception is closest to the truth, but it’s only those who soapbox their take that come off as truly unbearable. This is one reason why Paul Haggis’ Crash remains perhaps the most manipulative, clueless, aggravating film of the last decade. Answers to Nothing amounts merely to a horrendous tribute to Crash, cribbing the Oscar winner’s structure and turning it into an unendurable mess.

Dane fucking Cook plays Ryan, a therapist trying to confront his infidelity. His wife, Kate (Elizabeth Mitchell), is an attorney helping a woman who wants to keep custody of the brother she paralyzed while driving drunk. His mistress, Tara (Aja Volkman), is a musician in unspeakably terrible L.A. band Nico Vega (that’s true in real life, too, and the band plays its own songs throughout the film — sample lyric: “Stand tall for the beast of America/ Lay down like a naked dead body”). Elsewhere in the film, there’s an abducted child, a World of Warcraft-playing schoolteacher, a black woman confronting her race as she works in an all-white writers room, and honestly quite a lot more that I don’t want to inflict on you. Throughout the film, basic elements like writing and performance are abysmal, and the film leans hard on clichés to get its message across. Drew (Miranda Bailey) loses custody of her brother but still pushes his wheelchair for an entire marathon, finishing 12 hours after everyone else but also proving… something or other. A guy who pretends to be a cop despite failing out as a cadet dies saving an abducted girl because there are heroes all around us. Near the end, Ryan has a silent revelation while watching a magical homeless black man push a grocery cart across the street.

What’s interesting about Answers to Nothing is that it’s such a weak variation on Crash that it almost succeeds as farce. In the theater, most of us laughed audibly more than a few times, usually when the movie was taking itself most seriously (the parts where Cook tries to be funny generally wrought winces). About this time last year, TMT’s Benjamin Pearson wrote about the joy that can be found in going to see bad movies. I think Answers to Nothing is an excellent example of a film that could be enjoyed, not despite but because of its awfulness — if I’d brought a flask and some friends, this could’ve been the most fun I had at the movies all year. Unfortunately, unlike most schlock horror or rom-com schmaltz, Answers to Nothing is also a seemingly endless 123 minutes. Writer/Director Matthew Leutwyler overstuffs the film with unnecessary strands (the teacher and the TV writer could be redacted altogether) and continuity errors (the fake cop drives a very real police car), making it hard to understand who paid for this and how they were comfortable with what their money bought them. It would almost be Wiseau-level ineptitude if Leutwyler hadn’t been able to round out the cast with recognizable B talent, as Cook is accompanied by Zach Gilford (who only knows how to play his Friday Night Lights character) and Barbara Hershey, the overbearing mom from Black Swan, who here plays a less-convincing overbearing mom.

There’s a significant fear that Leutwyler might think this film is important or that it says something of value. But what he’s perpetrated with Answers to Nothing would be offensive if it didn’t seem so deliberately heartfelt. Instead, it’s a film that has to be met with a shrug and the same cynical smirk most honest cinema is working to overcome.

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