Case Number 17833: Small Claims Court

HOW TO BE

MPI // 2008 // 85 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // December 4th, 2009

The Charge

Sometimes, we all need a little help.

The Case

Post-millennium "It" boy Robert Pattinson stars as a depressed and self-obsessed dullard in this dreary dramedy.

Mopey Arthur (R-Patz) is an unsuccessful musician and all-around miserable person. When his girlfriend dumps him, he moves back in with his neurotically distanced parents (Rebecca Pidgeon, The Spanish Prisoner, and Michael Irving, Billy Jack Goes to Washington). With his ample free time, he broods, hangs out with a couple of friends -- one an agoraphobe, the other a facile horndog -- mopes, volunteers at a day care, pouts, works in a grocery store, despairs, and seeks out self-help books. He hits the motherlode when he happens upon one entitled It's Not Your Fault by Dr. Ellington (Powell Jones). Using some cash he's got from a convenient inheritance, he flies Dr. E from Canada to his home in England and installs him in a spare room at his parents' house. Now, Arthur has his own personal therapist who follows him around spouting New Age nonsense and advising him on How to Be...whatever it is Arthur is trying to be.

With the meteoric success of Twilight and New Moon, and the ascent of Rob Pattinson to the pantheon of Pop Idolatry, it was inevitable that the actor's pre-Edward Cullen appearances would be surfacing like mold from a dank basement. Since How to Be features Pattinson in the lead -- he's in every scene -- this is a Robsessed fan's dream come true. For the casual viewer, however, the experience is less-than rewarding.

How to Be suffers from an unengaging script that seems to go for a combination of whimsy and pathos but just ends up a slog. Arthur's discontent is vague. We get that his parents are cold and that they don't think too highly of him, but his efforts to connect to them -- including demanding a hug from his unreceptive mother and crawling into bed with them -- are silly without being funny. Dr. Ellington keeps popping up like the Great Kazoo dispensing self-help speak, which I think is supposed to be a little zany but just comes off as precious. As for Arthur's friends, they are made of quirk and shtick, with no more depth than a puddle. Most of the humor comes from jabs the low-hanging fruit that is the whole self-help subculture.

Pattinson does what he can, but he's really not given much to work with. The fact that Arthur has more screen time doesn't make him any more fleshed out than the rest of the characters. We don't get to know him beyond his whining and neediness, and so there's no real case for caring about him. His occasional outbursts about his awful childhood sound more like the moanings of someone who just started "blame the folks" therapy sessions rather than a person genuinely trying to reconcile his place in the world. In addition to the flat script, Pattinson is saddled with a pageboy haircut, which along with some unfortunate lighting choices, make it hard to peg him as a bourgeoning heartthrob. The rest of the cast keeps their game-face on while mouthing Writer/director Oliver Irving's often unspeakable dialogue.

MPI/IFC's package is far better than the movie deserves. The picture looks fine, and the 5.1 surround track sounds great. We also get English and Spanish subtitles. The disc is loaded with extras, including a commentary with the director and the actors playing Pattinson's friends; "making of" and "behind-the-scenes" featurettes, which look like they're sourced from the same material and are lengthy if not especially enlightening; a Pattinson interview promoting the film; Pattinson audition footage; and a trailer and photo gallery.

The Verdict

Fans who would pay to see Robert Pattinson do anything will likely pay to see Pattinson do this.

But it's a very bad and boring film.

Guilty.

Review content copyright © 2009 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 45

Perp Profile
Studio: MPI
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)

Subtitles:
* English
* Spanish

Running Time: 85 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Commentary
* Featurettes
* Photo Gallery
* Trailer

Accomplices
* IMDb
http://us.imdb.com/title/tt1057581/combined