SXSW 2013: AWFUL NICE Review

by     Posted 1 year, 234 days ago

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When I was a kid, I stuck a plunger on my brother’s face.  Another time, he hit me in the back of the head with a hockey stick.  Brothers fight, and some of the time they grow out of it.  Todd Sklar‘s Awful Nice focuses on Jim (James Pumphrey) and Dave (Alex Rennie), brothers who have kept their sibling rivalry alive and immature as possible.  The movie begins by exaggerating the conflict while still making it relatable, but eventually, Awful Nice doesn’t know how to progress beyond the brothers beating each other up and Dave being disgusting and idiotic.  The film has some wonderful moments of strange comedy, and Sklar and co-writer Rennie clearly have some talent, but Awful Nice has trouble moving past its solid premise.

The responsible Jim finds the ne’er-do-well Dave passed out inside a wigwam, and manages to woo his wayward brother back to Kansas City for their father’s funeral in exchange for $150.  The brothers want nothing to do with each other, although it’s easy to see why no one would want to be around the bizarre, self-centered, and slightly demented Dave.  However, spending time with his brother causes Jim to regress and renew their violent sibling rivalry.  When they discover that their father has left them the family’s old summer home, Jim and Dave take a chance at reconciliation by deciding to fix up the dilapidated house in order to sell it.

The first act of the film is hilarious.  Pumphrey and Rennie have great chemistry, some of the shenanigans are inspired like Dave’s insistence that an Alonzo Mourning rookie card is a precious collectable, and their road trip to the house in Branson, Missouri provides more comic fodder for their disagreements.  But once the brothers get to the house, the story begins grasping at where to go next.  Sklar and Rennie’s script gets stuck between having Dave do dumb stuff or the brothers messing up the house.  The sense of bonding never takes off because Sklar and Rennie seem more concerned with the next gag rather than developing the story.

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It’s incredibly frustrating because the flick has a relatable premise, a strong start, and Rennie is hilarious without ever coming off as obnoxious despite his character’s childish and increasingly contrived behavior (at one point, Dave uses some of Jim’s money to buy used Virtua Cop 2 arcade cabinet).  Sklar surrounds his lead actors with colorful characters, but these supporting players only serve to slow down what increasingly becomes a flabby, directionless plot.  Without a sense of pacing, storytelling, or character development, all that’s left are the jokes.  When those stop working because the material has gone stale, the movie is left with nothing.

The best thing to come out of Awful Nice is that audiences should keep an eye out for Sklar and Rennie.  Their movie feels like a rough draft that simply needed a lot more polish, but the talent is there.  I’m still chuckling at some of the delightfully goofy and weird jokes in the film, and I wish the director and screenwriter had found a way to successfully develop their promising set-up.  Brothers are going to fight, and in a comedy they’re probably going to reconcile.  Unfortunately, Awful Nice is unsure about what happens in between.

Rating: C+

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