February 23, 2006
Starring: Michael Showalter, Elizabeth Banks, Justin Theroux, Michelle Williams, Michael Ian Black, David Wain, Peter Dinklage, Paul Rudd, Catherine Lloyd Burns, Zak Orth,
The Baxter (2005) is about a nice guy named Elliot Sherman (Showalter). He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t get the girl in the movies. He reads the Dictionary for fun and is an accountant by trade (working for the second best firm in New York City no less) – it doesn’t get much more ordinary than that. He is a naïve, idealistic dreamer in the same vein as Miranda July’s character in Me and You and Everyone We Know (2005). The Baxter champions nice guys and the unsung heroes who may not be dynamic leading man material but fascinating in their own right.
One day, he meets two women who will change his life in very different ways. Caroline Swan (Banks) is a dynamic (in comparison) woman who catches his eye but is clearly out of Elliot’s league. Cecil Mills (Williams) is a bookish temp and Elliot’s ideal match although he doesn’t realize it yet. Elliot and Caroline start dating and eventually get engaged and initially seem an ideal match as is the case in most romantic comedies that is until Bradley (Theroux), her high school sweetheart, re-enters the picture. This makes Elliot understandably very nervous because Bradley is everything that Elliot is not and this makes him feel very threatened.
Michael Showalter is excellent as the ultimate nice guy/doormat. He walks through life with a perpetually cheery, glazed facial expression that is priceless. With his pursed lips and oblivious nature, he’s like a live-action version of Charlie Brown. He has such an expressive face – ideal for all of his funny looks and reaction shots when something doesn’t go his way: wide eyes when surprised and narrowed when suspicious.
Fans of the short-lived MTV sketch comedy show The State and the more recent Stella will delight in seeing Showalter and his friends Michael Ian Black and David Wain in the same movie together. These guys are idiosyncratic comedic actors and if you know who they are than you get the little in-jokes peppered throughout. It isn’t crucial to enjoying The Baxter but it does add to the enjoyment of the movie.
The always watchable Michelle Williams is absolutely endearing as Cecil the temp. Even though she is made to look mousy, her natural beauty and charisma come through. Her character is infinitely more interesting than Caroline and this is due in large part to Williams. There is something about her, an old fashioned quality in what her character wears, her inhibitions and her naivete that is refreshing in this day and age with actresses like Angelina Jolie who reveal too much so that there is no mystique to them. This makes them less interesting to watch.
Five minutes into The Baxter and it already has you immersed in this fascinating and idiosyncratic world. You find yourself already caring about what happens to Elliot. He is instantly endearing and engaging. And this extends to other characters via extensive use of close-ups so that we can see them emoting – essential for a character-driven movie like this one. In the first five minutes it is readily apparent that is a wonderfully personal, independent movie.
There is a brief “Blooper Reel” that features four scenes where actors blow their lines. It’s amusing but hardly earth shattering. Where is the audio commentary or obligatory making of featurette?