“Compromise is the key to success” A– or so claims Elliot Sherman, the sad-sack hero of the new romantic comedy “The Baxter.” This is the type of guy who orders white wine spritzers at bars, sports your grandfather’s plaid pageboy cap and refers to dating as “courting,” all with an unironically straight face.
In other words, Elliot (Michael Showalter, who also wrote and directed) is a “baxter,” the movie’s term for any guy who doesn’t get the girl and never has. In high school, college and grad school alike, Elliot sits back and watches as each potential love interest, tired of his over-gentlemanly passivity, rush into the arms of some other leading man’s movie-moment speech of eternal devotion.
Enter Caroline (Elizabeth Banks, “Spider-man”), an attractive blonde businesswoman with whom Elliot somehow gets himself engaged, despite the fact that she is clearly way the hell out of his league. Once armed with a fiancee, Elliot’s life settles into a contented plateau – until a much more appealing blast from Caroline’s past (Justin Theroux, “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle”) sweeps in to upset Elliot’s future.
Will he be able to salvage his engagement? It doesn’t really matter, because, in fact, nobody should want him to. Elliot is indeed too nice a guy to make this livewire of a woman happy, and so her reason for being with him, much less for staying with him, remains a mystery. They are too mismatched to ever root for, and even if that’s not clear to Elliot, it certainly is to everyone else. He is far more suited to fellow dweeb Cecil (Michelle Williams, from TV’s “Dawson’s Creek,” who, between a perky bob and bright pink cheeks, is almost unbearably cute), and takes an inordinately long time to realize it.
The simplicity of Elliot’s plight inevitably leads the plot into a few too many devices used purely to perpetuate the comic awkwardness of inept Elliot getting snubbed again and again. Such humor could have very well proved monotonous A– that is, if Showalter was not such an expert. Perhaps due to a long history as one third of the comedy troupe featured on Comedy Central’s “Stella,” Showalter proves well versed in keeping the awkward interesting. “The Baxter” is funny, plain and simple – quirkily, inanely, and, yes, awkwardly funny. And the lively party owes more than a little credit to the varied mix of fairly well-known comedians who nicely flesh out the supporting cast.
Peter Dinklage, none other than the popular Hollywood dwarf, is the most noticeable of the scene-stealing side characters. He plays Caroline’s gay wedding planner – a role that could have easily slipped into the usual limp-wristed caricature. Dinklage instead plays randy without sinking to insult, and one of the most memorable moments in the entire film consists of little more than his few seconds of hopeful guy-watching on a New York City street. In a movie about a man frustratingly incapable of taking even a step toward what (or who) he wants, it’s fitting that the highlight should come from a guy who’s more than willing to make the first move.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars