The road to artistic greatness is often strange and twisted, and occasionally in movies, involves actual artistry. But rarely has a musician gone through as much on the day of the Big Audition as Eli.
In the new Blu-ray release “Why Stop Now,”Jesse Eisenberg plays Eli, a young and gifted pianist who is also saddled with the responsibility of looking after his drug-addict mother Penny (Melissa Leo), and his younger sister Nicole (Emma Rayne Lyle), who only talks through a sock puppet. On the day he is to audition for a spot at a prestigious music conservatory, Eli tries to check his mother into rehab, but they find she can only be checked in to the clinic if she is currently using, which she is not. This means a trip to her dealer, Sprinkles (Tracy Morgan), who is low on product and needs Eli’s help as a go-between because Eli speaks Spanish.
There is more than a whiff of other indie films in this comedy/drama effort from co-writers and directors Philip Doling and veteran Ron Nyswaner. In his scripts for “The Painted Veil” and “Philadelphia,” Nyswaner showed a skill for drama, but here strives for a mix of quirky laughs and emotional moments with only middling results.
The script often lurches awkwardly from scene to scene, from comedy to melodrama, like a punch-drunk fighter taking roundhouse swings that he just can’t land. Strained boxing metaphors aside, the wisdom of treating drug addiction, rehab and drug dealing in such light, almost goofy terms is another issue entirely.
The filmmakers manage to provide some pleasant shading to the characters– the drug dealers are real people not cut-out lowlifes; as Sprinkle’s supplier, Paul Calderon brings a note of unexpected grace in a dance with Penny. But Nyswaner and Doling never really establish any kind of credibility behind the drama, and never successfully ntegrate those moments into the larger picture.
There’s no shortage of energy from the game cast, and Eisenberg and Leo are especially well cast. But the sheer effort behind the more manic moments is still obvious and off-putting. Enough with the whimsical asides already, stop trying so hard. There is a lengthy exchange in the car between the four adult leads, where I found myself waiting, hoping for that killer punchline, or any kind of punchline, but it never comes. They just shout about Penny’s driving and the scene kind of tails off…
The film works best in the quiet moments, when everybody stops pushing so hard to be surprising. Sprinkles and Eli have a nice exchange at a bar over tequilas. When Eli finally drops his mother off at rehab, they have a genuinely honest moment. The romance subplot between Eli and Chloe (an underwritten role for Sarah Ramos) hops and skips unconvincingly, but their last conversation at the Revolutionary War re-enactment camp (!) works well.
“Why Stop Now” is presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen. The pidture looks fine, though perhaps a bit overexposed in the sunny scenes. Subtitles are English SDH and Spanish.
The audio track is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Dialogue is clear and well-centered, despite all the shouting.
- Original theatrical trailer
- A very short featurette, which mostly duplicates the trailer
- An interview with Tracy Morgan, about his character and his work on the film. After viewing the film, it was surprising and a little disheartening to hear Morgan talk about his personal similarity to his character. Tragic backstory lost in the “knees bent running about.”
“Why Stop Now” has moments of grace and a couple of pleasant surprises, but in the end, drowns its quieter, more substantial moments in its own frantic silliness and forced quirkiness.