The Answer Man John Hindman

The Answer Man John Hindman
While ultimately a forgettable and clichéd romp through bittersweet rom-com waters, there is a bit of wit and charm within The Answer Man, a slightly less defeatist version of As Good As It Gets. Executed much like the dialogue-driven indie romance films of the late '90s, which usually featured Hope Davis, Parker Posey or Ione Skye, this diversion features a curmudgeonly philosophy guru named Arlen Faber (Jeff Daniels), whose shut-in life away from his adoring fans hits a snag when he throws his back out — symbolism that is lost on no one. Tired of his uncooperative nature, his editor Terry (Nora Dunn) refuses to help him, leaving him to crawl on all fours to the nearest chiropractor, a struggling single mom named Elizabeth (Lauren Graham). Romance sparks mainly because of Elizabeth's tendency to call the celebrity on his shit, tossing out smart-ass comments about his fortune cookie wisdom and OCD idiosyncrasies, which tickles his self-destructive nature just fine. A subplot involving a recovering alcoholic bookstore owner (Lou Taylor Pucci, tackling the Greg Kinnear role) drives their romance through its major turning point in a rather ham-fisted manner that almost derails the entire film. With Daniels tackling a lighter version of his Bernard Berkman role from The Squid and the Whale and Graham essentially rehashing Lorelei Gilmore, with a less chatty and referential disposition, the performances come across in a familiar but effortless light, hindered only by a lack of natural chemistry between the two. We understand theoretically that their mutual interest comes from isolation through identity as performance construct but never feel fully invested in their journey. A handful of inspired dialogues and refreshingly unexplained secondary plots involving Kat Dennings and Olivia Thirlby help compensate for this minor disconnect. On the downside, contemporary jazz soundtracks are never a good idea. No supplements are included with the DVD. (Mongrel Media)