Oh, comedy. Why are you so hard to explain? Why are you so subjective? Why must you make my life so difficult?
Listen, I think Will Forte and Will Arnett are both very, very funny. Forte is currently on “SNL,” where his characters include the Falconer and Tim Calhoun, the low-talking political figure. He did that spelling bee sketch on the Jack Black episode a couple years ago where he spelled the word “business” as a string of consonants that went on for a full 70 seconds. And Arnett, of course, played Gob on the beloved “Arrested Development.” He is married to “SNL’s” Amy Poehler, who I also think is brilliant.
Yet as I look around the Internet, I see message boards with thread titles like “Least Funny Person on TV” and “The worst thing about ‘SNL,'” referring to Forte. I have a critic colleague who thinks Arnett is the very antithesis of comedy. For that matter, Poehler has her detractors, too, who rail against her every “Weekend Update” appearance in the weekly “SNL” post-mortems. And there are people who don’t find Will Ferrell funny, either!!
The point is, if you’re among those who don’t care for Forte and Arnett’s type of humor, you will find nothing enjoyable about “The Brothers Solomon,” which Forte wrote and which they both star in. They play adult brothers who were home-schooled to Ph.D.’s, lack social skills, and now want to impregnate a woman in order to create a grandchild for their dying father. The film plays out like a smarter version of “Dumb & Dumber,” minus most of the gross-out stuff.
This is not a great film, but it often made me laugh very hard. One of Forte’s fortes (ha!) is the ability to perform with comedic fearlessness. He’ll do a joke that starts out funny, and he keeps doing it until it stops being funny. That’s where most comics would quit, but Forte keeps going, continuing until it becomes funny again. By the end, you’re laughing simply because you can’t believe the joke is still going. That’s what made the spelling bee sketch so memorable, and you could hear the audience’s laughter ebb and flow as he continued, fully committed, never doubting himself, to list random letters for a minute and 10 seconds.
The same skill is on display in “The Brothers Solomon,” which reduces comedy to its most minimal elements. Everything is logical in its way. When the two brothers use a doll to practice changing diapers, it makes sense for them to put good things like quarters and chicken nuggets in the diapers, to condition themselves to look positively at tending to baby’s needs. You must admit, the logic is unassailable.
Just as in “Dumb & Dumber,” the Solomon brothers, John (Arnett) and Dean (Forte), have essentially the same personality as each other. They are optimistic and happy and very rarely use sarcasm or euphemisms. They speak in practical, clinical terms about their ambitions to get someone pregnant. They seem oblivious to the world’s many cruelties, despite being genius scientists (or something) who grew up in the Arctic with their father (Lee Majors, spending most of the film in a coma).
In short, they are flat characters who can exist only in a movie, and barely there. The film’s chief flaw is that since it avoids any real emotional depth, choosing to replace the potentially nice moments with jokes and diversions, it gets old before its time. An hour is about as long as most of us can spend with one-dimensional characters, even if they are one-dimensional on purpose.
The director is Bob Odenkirk, whose HBO series with David Cross, “Mr. Show,” also pushed the boundaries of comedy, not to mention good taste. He’s more of a writer and performer than he is a director, though I guess there’s something to be said for just sitting back and letting the actors do their thing.
John and Dean wind up paying a surrogate, Janine (“SNL” co-star Kristen Wiig), to have their baby, and must contend with her hostile semi-boyfriend James (Chi McBride) in the process. Meanwhile, John puts the moves on his and Dean’s next-door neighbor, Tara (Malin Akerman), who considers the Solomon brothers as hopeless losers.
She’s right, of course; that’s one of the film’s jokes. I almost said it’s one of the film’s points, but in fact the film very cheerfully refuses to have a point. It could be about loving yourself for who you are, or about finding love in unconventional places, or about makeshift families being as good as biological ones, but no. It’s not about any of those things. It’s about two odd, like-minded characters behaving in their peculiar but reasonable way as they try to produce progeny for their dad, period.
I laughed a lot. The fact that one of the threads on IMDB is titled “Worst movie of the year?” actually gives me comfort. If I laughed a lot at a movie that someone else thinks is the worst picture of the year, that suggests the film is trying something new and out of the mainstream. It won’t work for everyone, but it will work for some people. I was one of those people. You might not be. What else can I tell you?
B (1 hr., 31 min.; )