The Answer Man
Dir: John Hindman
Jeff Daniels is one of our most undervalued actors. Whether he plays an academic, philandering snake such as his roles in The Squid and the Whale and Terms of Endearment, a charming blind guy in The Lookout or just an out-and-out comedic role such as Harry in Dumb and Dumber, Daniels almost always serves as the unspoken glue in whatever project he chooses.
Though it is admirable that Daniels appears in indie films, he needs to limit his choices to intelligent fare such as The Lookout and avoid the temptation of jumping into the starring role in films like John Hindman’s abominable The Answer Man, a romantic comedy that is more or less a poor facsimile of the plot of As Good as it Gets. In this film, Daniels plays Arlen Faber, the author of a 20-year-old bestseller God & Me. Ever since the book, which claims the author speaks to God, exploded as a major success, Faber has absconded himself into his Philadelphia home J.D. Salinger style. As the film begins, the curmudgeonly Faber is forced from his home after a back injury lands him under the care of Lauren Graham’s chiropractor Elizabeth.
As Daniels’ Faber softens under the hands and heart of this new love interest, so does the plot until all that is left is a gooey pile of schmaltz. As Faber, who is secretly mourning the loss of his father, is propelled towards social redemption, Hindman also throws in Kris (Lou Taylor Pucci), an alcoholic bookseller who in an act of deus ex machina loses his father and is on the brink of losing his store. You can see where this plot is going.
Though Hindman insults us with interminable dialogue (“Elizabeth,” Faber calls to the departing Graham. She stops and faces him. “Nothing,” he mutters with a smile and then turns away) the film’s biggest transgressions are the faux insights Faber imparts to the soul-searching Kris and the subsequent revelation at the finale that we don’t need God when all the innate wisdom comes from within. The only thing that keeps this film, so filled with smarmy Chicken Soup For The Soul nuggets, from a lower grade is Daniels’ performance. Instead of playing Faber as a caricature, Daniels imbues the character with fragility and subtle nuance. Too bad the same can’t be said for Hindman’s contrived, unbelievable plot and the ham-fisted ending where Daniels and Elizabeth decide to start over, beginning with introducing themselves. We were better off not knowing them the first time.
by David Harris