Genius Products // 2006 // 80 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // March 28th, 2008
"What does being a pirate have to do with hot dogs?"
Jeff Garlin, best known for his role in Curb Your Enthusiasm, stars/writes/directs this goofy romantic comedy, which may be a lot sweeter than meets the eye.
Garlin plays James, an overweight single man still living with his mother, facing a stalled acting career and dealing with no prospects of a romantic companionship. If he could just shave off some weight, then maybe he could find himself a lady friend and get on with his life. But he's in a holding pattern.
Until he meets Beth (Sarah Silverman) a kooky "free spirit" who immediately takes a liking to the lovable tub o'lard. James begins to envision himself enveloped in a passionate romance with a zesty hottie, but if there's anything he's learned in his life is that all of his plans are often torpedoed and he's left standing in the same convenience store, run by the same convenience store clerk (Dan Castellaneta), griping and hoarding junk food.
I'm kind of conflicted with this film. I enjoyed it and laughed frequently, yet I can't shake the feeling it's a missed opportunity. There's a lot of talent on display here, including cameo appearances by actors bringing with them serious comic skills (e.g., Castellaneta, Amy Sedaris, Tim Kazurinsky). And the film starts strongly enough, featuring many, many funny moments and the potential for some satisfying romantic entanglements. But...the thing just runs out of gas in the final third.
Cheese (I am not writing out the full title) builds some nice momentum to start. Garlin has an appealing, quirky sense of humor -- dare I say Larry David-like -- that manifests in some bizarre situations. Take, for example, when James gets roped into covering for a friend selling hot dogs dressed as pirate and he gets into a celebrity nudity quiz contest with a homeless man. Funny stuff. Or his encounter with a grad school guidance counselor (Sidaris) where he learns that a possible love interest is a chubby chaser. Or James's ill-advised show-and-tell presentation where he laments his need to get laid...okay that was a bit too much, but I still laughed.
The central narrative thrust of the film is James's attempt to secure some female companionship. Silverman's Beth is the primary player, and she's a great character, loopy, full of non-sequiturs, attractive -- hello bra and panties show! -- and riddled with unpredictable emotional baggage. How James navigates the thorny relationship propels much of the melodrama and for the most part it works. I think Beth gets a little too wacky towards the end, but her nuttiness enables Garlin to show a vulnerable side to his character and, lest I sound like a misty-eyed schoolgirl, that proved to be one of the more touching moments in the film.
That and the ending, as confessed to by Garlin on his commentary track, is slightly obtuse. But what lies between these points is lethargic storytelling. The film's pace slows and the active, funny energy that had been present in the beginning takes a sojourn. We're not talking creative wasteland here, but compared to the first two chunks of the runtime, the homestretch lumbers.
Still, I'm more than happy to issue Cheese a recommendation. While it could have been an under-the-radar homerun, Jeff Garlin's endeavor to the land of romcom will have to settle for being merely charming and weird and funny. That's not too shabby, huh?
[Editor's Note: Keep an eye out for a brief appearance by Chief Justice Michael Stailey towards the end of the film.]
The disc comes home with little fanfare. The video (1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen) is clean and attractive and the 5.1 Dolby Digital surround does what it has to do -- generate dialog. Extras: an honest and funny commentary by Garlin and one deleted scene (with optional commentary).
It's a winner, but not with flying colors. Maybe hopping colors.
Not guilty. Pass the Gouda.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 80 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scene