By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, November 2, 2012
If you love Laura Linney -- and, really, who doesn’t? -- you’ll probably love “The Details,” or at least the several scenes she’s in. Playing the “wackadoodle” next-door neighbor of Tobey Maguire’s blank-faced protagonist in this self-consciously black comedy of suburban angst, the actress injects a big dose of crazy into a story that could use a little more of the real thing, and a little less of the cartoon variety.
The movie centers on Maguire’s Jeff Lang, a porn-addicted obstetrician with a cold-fish wife (Elizabeth Banks) and backyard raccoon problem. It’s kooky, but in a way that feels strenuous and forced. (Raccoons are funny, see, because they’re cute.)
An unexpectedly light follow-up to filmmaker Jacob Aaron Estes’s fine and disturbing 2004 drama “Mean Creek,” “The Details” wears its quirky heart on its sleeve, signaling (and smirking at) its own silliness, at every opportunity, with an intrusively antic score that makes everything sound like a giant joke.
Linney, on the other hand, brings a seriousness to her portrayal of Jeff’s loopy neighbor, Lila. The character may be unhinged, but the actress remains, paradoxically, grounded. She’s a joy to watch.
Speaking of grounded, the story is set in motion by sod. More specifically, by Jeff’s efforts to eradicate a raccoon infestation brought on by new sod he has laid behind his house. His efforts soon become an obsession that drives a wedge between him and his wife (although truthfully, his porn addiction probably didn’t help).
Before long, the plot is cluttered with incident. Multiple infidelities by Jeff (including a hilarious one with Lila), a dead cat, an unexpected pregnancy and organ donation all start to pile up in what amounts to a narrative traffic jam.
About that organ donation: For reasons that are never adequately explained, Jeff decides to donate a kidney to some guy he plays pickup basketball with (an excellent, also nicely grounded Dennis Haysbert). It’s a weirdly sobering development, but it seems to have been transplanted from another, very different film.
Much of this, by the way, is laid out in a prologue to the film, narrated by Jeff in a wryly knowing voiceover that suggests that there’s some kind of payoff coming, a larger meaning that we can take away from the story. After all, isn’t that what fiction does -- impose an order on the chaos of existence?
Don’t bet on it.
Sure, “The Details” is funny enough, in a dark (and actually surprisingly violent) way. But there’s no real epiphany, other than the revelation that -- wait for it -- life goes on. In the end, the movie paints itself into a corner, trying to buy its way out of the mess it has made with something that sounds less like the moral of the story than an admission that it doesn’t know what just happened.
Contains obscenity, sex, drug use, brief nudity, violence and cruelty to animals.