He first thought it was his life story, then feared it was a sequel to the Eddie Murphy debacle. But Judge Bill Gibron soon learned it was nothing more than a middlin', maudlin indie comedy.
A Comedy About Someone You Know
Bill (Aaron Eckhart, The Dark Knight) lives a horrible life. He's a middle aged dweeb dismissed by everyone around him. As a pencil pusher in his father-in-law's family bank, he's all title and no power. At home, his distant wife (Elizabeth Banks, Definitely, Maybe) has taken up with a local newscaster (Timothy Olyphant, Hitman). His gay brother thinks he's a sap, and even worse, he's stuck mentoring a kid (Logan Lerman, Hoot) from his alma mater prep school. Of course, the two don't get along at first. Bill hates the fact that his charge treats life like one big cut-rate Ferris Bueller-esque party. The Kid, on the other hand, dislikes his 'teacher's' downbeat and defeatist attitude. Together, they will pursue their individual dreams—Bill's of owing a donut shop franchise, the Kid's of landing a date with lingerie sales clerk Lucy (Jessica Alba, Fantastic Four). Of course, they will have to overcome their own personal inadequacies, and realize that there is more to the world than there own limited purview.
Meet Bill is the kind of movie that gives away all its secrets in the underlying plot premise. When we learn that a supposedly likeable loser will be part of a prep school mentoring program, and that he will be partnered with a wise beyond his years teen known only as "the Kid", and that both will go on one of those self-styled journeys of individual discovery, the shallow, simplistic screenplay writes itself. There will be life lessons passed up and down, the process of maturing battling the precociousness of youth for overriding individual philosophy. Each side will learn something about themselves, about the people in their sitcom stratagem sphere of influence, and of course, about each other. There will be high times (literally) and low moments, sequences of thoughtful dissertation and some slapstick suspension of disbelief. In the end, everyone will be changed—some for the better, some for the worse—and if you haven't grabbed a box of Kleenex to dab your emotionally manipulated eyes, you're beaming with an implied internal glow that suggests a universality and clear karmic truth in everything you've just seen.
The only problem is Meet Bill does indeed manage to meet the film's formulaic requirements, if only by the skin of its self-aggrandizing and important teeth. Motion picture novices Melisa Wallack and Bernie Goldman (she—writing and co-directing, he—helping out behind the lens) clearly believe in their material. They agonize over certain aspects, the camera coming right up on the actors to capture every nuance of their frequent flying off the handle performances. This is especially true of lead Aaron Eckhart. Playing dumpy and dour may not be a stretch for the indie icon, but here, his Bill feels like a collection of ills, not a fully rounded reject. From his nepotistic job to his cuckolded obsession with his wife's lover's hair color, it's all quirk and no clarification. We never understand why Bill is the way he is, and Eckhart gets no help from the creative component involved. Instead, Wallack and Goldman just keep throwing stuff at the screen—ape-like—hoping something sticks. Without backstory and discernible motive, Bill is just a bellyacher.
The result is a movie that barely passes the stereotype muster while simultaneously finding ways to undermine its own sense of entertainment. The subplot with Jessica Alba seems strange, since the notion that she would flirt with a kid half her age is creepy, not comic. Even odder, Elizabeth Banks is stranded in adulterous harpy mode, her last act change of heart coming more from a screenplay, not sensible, position. The rest of the no name cast wander about aimlessly, trying to mine humor out of WASP-ish idiosyncrasy (who besides Ted Nugent follows "the hunter's code" in 2008???), and the whole prep school setting is underused and unimportant. In this kind of film, we are supposed to champion our title character, hoping he sees the light the rest of us take for daily grind granted. But Meet Bill doesn't offer anything or anyone we seriously care about. In the end, it's everything the premise promised…and a whole lot less.
First Look Studios' DVD release of this 2007 title is halfway decent. While the added content is nothing more than a collection of uninvolving deleted scenes (very little of significance) and some trailers, the audio and video specifications are definitely up to snuff. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen image is crisp and sharp, the colors remaining vibrant while the contrasts are kept under control. Wallack and Goldman have no real visual flair, yet the transfer treats their pedestrian filmmaking more than fairly. As for the sonic situation, the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround is about as non-immersive as one can get. The channels see limited use, with the only real speaker specialness coming from the misused navel-gazing indie pop soundtrack. Still, the dialogue is easily discernible, so all is not lost. Over all, the technical aspects are relatively solid.
Sadly, the same can't be said for this unoriginal effort. The filmmakers may feel that there's a reason we'd like to Meet Bill, but after watching their attempted explanation, it's clear this is one get-together we could have easily avoided.
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