Published Jul 10, 2018Is there such thing as coincidence, or is the universe trying to tell us something? How does someone truly establish and define his or her own unique identity? What would happen then if they were to lose it? These are a few of the intriguing questions posed by The Death (and Life) of Carl Naardlinger, a droll but ultimately frustrating puzzle box of a movie that can't help but inspire its own question: if a movie has some original ideas and promising comic elements, is it easier to forgive its shortcomings?
The mild-mannered Carl Naardlinger (Matt Baram) lives a relatively mundane life in Toronto as a customer service representative who does menial account maintenance for clients over the phone. This is all thrown into disarray one day when his birthday celebration at home with his wife Pam (Grace Lynn Kung) is interrupted by an investigator (Anand Rajaram) looking into his disappearance. Of course, he's not missing, but a different Carl Naardlinger sure is.
Carl is drawn more and more into the other Carl Naardlinger's disappearance, seemingly by forces beyond his control. First, he learns that the other Carl worked at a bakery and happened to be the one to make his birthday cake right before he went missing. Then some luggage randomly shows up at his place, and its contents would seem to indicate that it belonged to the other Carl. Things get even weirder when a man named Don (Mark Forward), who saw the missing flyers for Carl posted about town, comes forward and says that he's not Carl, but he happens to have the exact same face as him.
Even with all of the larger cosmic possibilities swirling around them being rife with comedic potential, many of the movie's funniest moments are in the smaller interactions between characters. For instance, when Don takes great pains to explain to Carl how the name of his town of Smith's Falls is possessive rather than denoting there are two different falls, Carl then inquires about Don's line of work with, "Are you in grammar?" (As it turns out, Don makes motion-activated songbirds for a living.) Forward and Baram have contrasting comic energies that complement each other nicely, while Kung often proves capable of cutting Baram down to size with only a withering glare.
The movie is the directorial debut of Katherine Schlemmer, who also wrote the screenplay, and there are some familiar rough edges here that you might expect from a first feature. These include scenes that can sometimes run a little too slow or long, awkward transitions and montages between scenes and an over-reliance on repetitious music cues.
The screenplay, though brimming with big ideas, also seems as if it could have perhaps used another draft or two to mine even more humour from the absurd premise and strengthen its central focus. Perhaps then she could have also found a way to provide more meaning here to all of the coincidences and tied them all together in a satisfying conclusion.