Director: Jason James
Cast: Thomas Middleditch, Jess Weixler, Diana Bang, Johannah Newmarch
Running Time: 1:25
Release Date: 2/9/18 (limited)
Review by Mark Dujsik | February 8, 2018
There is so much to be said about the key revelation in the third act of Entanglement. It is, essentially, the moment at which the potential and promise for something different begins. That it arrives so late in the movie is telling. That it ultimately leads nowhere is even more telling.
To reveal directly what happens in this review would be unfair, because the screenplay by Jason Filiatrault plays it as a surprise. To the movie's credit, the information is a surprise, and it changes everything that we thought we knew was happening in this story. More importantly, it also forces us to reevaluate the entire point of this story, which seems like a familiar romance between a self-important man, going through a crisis, and a woman who is the convenient embodiment of every characteristic that the man finds attractive, as well as a bunch of qualities that would help him get out of his rut.
The popular term for this sort of female character is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. It has become such a cliché in movies about the romantic ideals of men of a certain age and generation that our initial response to that brand of character here is to dismiss her. Without revealing too much, that instinct, as it turns out, is kind of the point—or at least it is for a brief moment.
To get into specifics, Ben (Thomas Middleditch) is in an existential rut. He is recently divorced and still pines for his ex-wife. Nothing in his life seems to be going right, and at the start of the movie, he is preparing to end it all. He has connected a hose from the exhaust pipe of his car to the window of his upstairs apartment, and as Ben finishes his suicide note, someone steals his car, dragging the hose along with it. After testing some other potential methods of suicide (There's something disquieting about how flippantly the movie treats this), he arrives at a pocket knife and his bathtub. A buzz at the front door of the apartment building sends him downstairs, where an observant delivery man calls an ambulance, saving Ben's life.
Six months later, Ben has a plan to chart the course of his life with some photos, writing on a wall, and string. He figures that, if he can pinpoint the moment when his life went wrong, he can correct it now. Nothing seems to fit his theory, until he discovers that his parents had started the process of adopting a child shortly before discovering that his mother was pregnant. The adoption process ceased, and Ben is convinced that this—the potential of having a sister—must be the thing that irreversibly changed the course of his life.
Enter Hanna (Jess Weixler), who seems to be the woman who is his not-quite-a-sister. She's everything that Ben isn't—assertive and carefree—as well as attractive and infinitely quirky. Of course, she's more than happy to go along with Ben's theory and to spend an inordinate amount of time with him to show him all the ways that life can be adventurous.
There is, well, really nothing unique here. Everything about this relationship plays out as one would expect, with Ben getting into some happy-go-lucky rebellion with Hanna, Hanna taking things up a notch, and Ben ignoring Tabby (Diana Bang), his clearly smitten neighbor whose own quirks (She's an artist and routinely sneaks into Ben's apartment to clean up the place) only pale in comparison to Hanna. The movie indulges in whimsical flashes, such as glowing jellyfish in a public pool and a mural of planets moving while Hanna explains her theory about life. We're supposed to take the relationship as a transcendent experience for Ben.
It's predictable and avoids the central issue of Ben's problems in favor of generic whimsy. Then the key scene arrives, and we realize that Filiatrault is directly addressing all of the issues with this story, these characters, and this relationship. The moment knocks us for a loop in its self-awareness. What seems convenient and perfectly tied to what Ben needs in his life turns out to be something else entirely.
In a brief moment, the movie transforms into a biting critique of the clichés that populate this kind of movie. Like the illusion of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, though, the promise of Filiatrault and director Jason James actually using Entanglement to use this meta-conceit as a way to deconstruct those clichés turns out to be too good to be true. The scenes following the revelation show him starting the cycle over again, without the movie being aware of it and unintentionally suggesting that Ben hasn't learned a thing.
Copyright © 2018 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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