Review by Robert Bell (C)
Western culture would have us believe that happiness is easy to attain. If one adheres to the rules and guidelines set forth by our pasty-white, capitalist forefathers than we too can have the white picket fence and long-weekend cottage commute. Formative educations systems instil these values on our youth, rewarding and encouraging assimilation and singular belief systems. Intelligence is defined by one's ability to respond with the most socially acceptable answer. Any defiance or questioning of dominant ideologies and their structure, no matter how logical, is deterred and punished. This encourages a hegemonic ideal, which is then established in the production line of children. They can then go into the world and do what is expected of them; taking pride in their post-secondary educations and 9-5 income generating professions. Goals then become driven by money and status, in order to have the best "things" and be coveted by complete strangers. There is no time to question how this regimented lifestyle came to be, or whether it's even sane (or wanted), as success waits for no one. Should questions of passion or desire or happiness come into play, there are always reality-altering anti-depressants and other chemical substances. The illusion of freedom exists within this structure, allowing people to feel uniquely important or that their success lies in their personal choices and ethics. Occasionally however, there are individuals who look outside of their cages and wonder how they got trapped in the first place.
Such is Bill (Aaron Eckhart), a man trapped in routine life with a cheating wife (Elizabeth Banks) and a well-paying, but intellectually void job at a bank. Enabled and invigorated by a wisecracking, con-artist youth (Logan Lerman), who in turn is infatuated with a luscious lingerie saleswoman (Jessica Alba), Bill decides to march to the beat of his own drum.
Suffering many humiliations, including a penile comparison to an acorn, Bill seeks solstice in a doughnut franchise that he views as an escape from his mundane life.
As a preachy didactic about going after what one "wants" in life, Meet Billis a relatively successful yarn. The music cues at appropriate times to let the audience know when to laugh and when to reflect on Bill's personal discoveries. They come at convenient moments, lending a believable if formulaic character arc. The problem is that the comedy isn't funny and the drama isn't particularly moving or inspiring. Meet Bill carries the emotional gravity of an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger (perhaps the one where Haley Joel Osment had AIDS). Given that Walkerwas on for 9 seasons (seriously), Meet Bill should please a less discerning and easily entertained crowd.
Adding some much needed dignity to the film, Aaron Eckhart delivers a typically strong performance as a self-deprecating cornball. He captures the essence of a slow and unremarkable man quite well, unafraid to look weak and unattractive. His transformation is believable and he brings some much-needed humanity to a relatively uninteresting character. It isn't easy to identify with the rich and disenfranchised, but Eckhart does his best to engage the viewer. Also strong is Elizabeth Banks who seems to enjoy playing a trashy and emotionally disengaged love interest. Many actresses would have tried to make this character more likable, but Banks appears unafraid to come off as a nasty bitch. It's actually quite commendable and refreshing.
Aside from the strong cast, Meet Bill has a television movie/straight-to-DVD feel to it. Individual viewers will attach meaning to it based on their own abilities to identify with a middle-aged man who no longer finds security in his inflated bank account.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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