Judge Patrick Bromley wishes he had a funny title for his morose autobiographical play.
A movie about a play about a life that is falling apart.
That title. Multiple Sarcasms. It's clever, right? A play on words, if you will. Disregard the fact that it has nothing to do with what the movie Multiple Sarcasms is actually about, and that none of the characters are particularly caustic or sarcastic. It sounds good, and that's what matters. Either the filmmaker (a former producer named Brooks Branch) started with the title and worked backwards or finished his film and couldn't resist that title, despite the fact that it doesn't describe his film. The third possibility is that it was slapped on by a studio to make the movie more marketable—a theory I would lend more credence to if a studio had ever come up with a title as literate or self-consciously clever as Multiple Sarcasms. Ultimately, it's a mystery.
Multiple Sarcasms stars Timothy Hutton (Leverage) as Gabe, a frustrated architect feeling lost in his life. As his life goes up for grabs, Gabe has to redefine his relationships with the women in his life: his socialite wife, Annie (Dana Delaney, Live Nude Girls), his daughter, Elizabeth (India Ennenga, The Women) and his best friend, punk band manager Cari (Mira Sorvino, Summer of Sam). His answer to this mid-life crisis? Write an autobiographical play and get it produced with he help of his new agent (Stockard Channing, Must Love Dogs). That's pretty much the gist of Multiple Sarcasms, which isn't so much a movie about plot as it is about characters and relationships and dialogue. On paper, anyway. In practice, Multiple Sarcasms isn't about very much at all, despite a talented cast and the obvious earnestness of first-time director Brooks Branch. If good intentions counted for everything, Multiple Sarcasms might be a masterpiece. In this world, though, it's self-indulgent and mopey and, unfortunately, not terribly interesting.
The cast can't really be blamed for this. Timothy Hutton is always good in an understated way, and it's not really his fault that he already played a version of this character in the much-better Beautiful Girls almost 15 years ago (if you haven't seen that movie, check it out—it's great). Mira Sorvino is on hand to be the appealing best friend and remind us that she used to be a movie star (and was in Beautiful Girls, which you really should see), both of which she does very well. All of the smaller roles are well acted, too, from Delaney to Ennenga to Mario Van Peebles (New Jack City) in a distracting afro wig (the film is set in the late '70s, which ranges from distractingly forced to totally nonexistent, and the timing actually doesn't add anything to the narrative) to Laila Robbins (Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael) as a woman Gabe contemplates having an affair with. But good acting can only carry a movie so far, particularly when there isn't enough good writing to back it up. One could argue that Branch has a lock on what it's like to be emotionally adrift, because that's kind of how Multiple Sarcasms feels—we don't know how to feel from one scene to the next. The trouble is that I don't think it's a conscious filmmaking choice, but rather the result of some problematic writing and messy construction.
Multiple Sarcasms receives a passable-at-best HD treatment courtesy of Image Entertainment. The 1.78:1 image is quite uneven, offering decent facial detail and warm hues one minute and dull softness the next. Crushing tends to obliterate most of the detail in the darker scenes (particularly one in a nightclub), a strange silver/white spot pops up in the frame from time to time and the image is pretty flat overall. The DTS-HD Master Audio track does fine by the dialogue, but not much else; that's ok, as this is primarily a talky movie, but anyone looking for a more dynamic or immersive experience isn't going to get it here. The only extras included are some EPK-style interviews with the cast, a standard "behind the scenes" featurette and the film's original trailer.
Multiple Sarcasms is far from unbearable. The cast keeps it (mostly) afloat, and I was able to tolerate because I have an affinity for talky movies about characters with problems. Of course, in a better movie, the problems of the characters would be more clearly defined (all we know about the Hutton character is what the other characters continually tell him about himself) and the dialogue would be sharper. More insightful. Truer to life. Instead, we get a filmmaker who made a movie about a guy who writes a play about a guy writing a play about his own life. Brooks Branch wants to make a movie that hurts the way life can hurt sometimes, but Multiple Sarcasms is buried under too many layers of artifice.
A noble failure.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
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