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Straight out of film school, aged 22, while her peers were off interning, Kendall Goldberg directed her feature debut, this offbeat, earnest movie about a quarter-life crisis (released in the US in 2018). That’s an undeniably impressive achievement, and the film has some interesting ideas about overparenting and how grown-up kids can buckle under the pressure of Mum and Dad’s expectations. But otherwise it feels a bit generic – shuffling the pack of quirky indie movie cliches, not quite funny enough to be a comedy but with too little authentic emotion to work as drama.
Jon Heder plays Jeff, the manager of Winky’s World, a bowling alley so poorly maintained that it’s acquired a kind of retro-chic. Jeff is an underachiever, a computer science graduate who takes medication for depression and anxiety. (Heder’s performance is a bit flat – like he sees depression as a giant vacuum cleaner that has sucked away Jeff’s personality.) The job at Winky’s suits Jeff; he likes the routine, it makes him feel safe. But the owner is threatening to sell, so Jeff decides to turn the business into a going concern, with free pizza and live music. This stuff is only ever mildly entertaining, though there’s a funny scene where he persuades the maintenance guy (Steve Berg doing a Zach Galifianakis) to trash-talk Winky’s to potential buyers.
The more interesting scenes involve Jeff’s relationship with his prickly sister, trainee doctor Lindy (Anna Konkle) who shows up to crash on his floor with a friend. It turns out that everyone in his family believes that Jeff is a high-flying computer programmer. The suggestion, not fully explored, is that his self-esteem has been crushed by his demanding parents, who seem to have labelled him “the clever one” when the kids were small. His sister confesses to competing with him for their attention: “I had to get into med school to prove that I existed.” It’s a genuinely moving scene in a film where the actors often look like they’re mimicking real feelings.
When Jeff Tried to Save the World is available on Sky on 13 April.
Source: The Guardian
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