Sundance 2016: ‘Joshy’ lightly ponders life with comical finesse and sarcastic insight

Joshy courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

Directed and written by Jeff Baena
USA, 2016

Jeff Baena’s Joshy is a surprisingly funny film about fragile male egos converging for a bachelor’s weekend. The solemn catch is that the groom-to-be’s wedding has been called off and all of them are in a much worse place that they were just a year ago. With everyone’s long term relationships torn to shreds or obliterated, the men are close to inconsolable or blindly hedonistic. While this all seems like a disastrous recipe for rehashing tired moments from The Hangover, it actually plays out in an amusing albeit melancholic way that doesn’t (for the most part) go cheap to get laughs.

Joshy is a definite improvement over Baena’s debut feature, Life After Beth, which had encouraging moments laced with sporadically great lines, but failed to fulfill the promise of its cast and premise. Here, Baena hits exactly the right notes of sadness and hope as the wounded men blurt out their feelings and lean on each other. Josh (Thomas Middleditch of HBO’s Silicon Valley and The Final Girls) is a regular guy whose life has turned upside down. He doesn’t know if events and his wedding being cancelled had anything directly to do with him or not. The soft-spoken Adam (Alex Ross Perry), the polite Ari (The Mindy Project’s Adam Pally), and entertaining Greg (Brett Gelman) are all examining the demise of their marriages to varying degrees. Only Eric (Nick Kroll) seems completely free of guilt and self-loathing. Determined to make the most out of the weekend, he sets up a series of misguided experiences that inadvertently trigger a slew of buried emotions and memories.

Partly madcap but decidedly about men unable to sort themselves out in any kind of adult manner, Joshy is a much better version of a Sundance movie from a few years ago called I’ll Melt With You, which also involved old friends getting together in the wake of failure and disappointment, but shrugged its shoulders about communicating themes with anything but drugs or sex and tacked on vaguely glib statements about men being ultimately unknowable. Joshy addresses the same issues but with an enhanced comical finesse and sarcastic insight. It doesn’t take itself that seriously, but has an exposed quality to its characters that gains emotional traction as the movie progresses. There are dips into lame scenarios and stock characters, but they recede into the background when taking stock of the movie as a whole. Only shreds of the story get overtly contemplative, and that may be for the best, as the more forcefully somber scenes verge on becoming overwrought. 

Kroll’s character is flat but a needed energetic addition to the rest of the cast, which take on sorry back stories that supplement and bolster Josh’s sad sack predicament. To see a better showcase for Kroll’s work, check out Adult Beginners or Comedy Central’s Kroll Show. Adam Pally’s Ari stands out as sweeter than the other men, but no less desperate to find someone or something to make him feel better about life. He encounters charming oddball Jodi (Jenny Slate of SNL and Obvious Child) and finds an immediate happiness with her that opens up his eyes. His sensitive and accessible portrayal of masculinity helps make the other more boisterous and slimy aspects of his friends more palatable. Thomas Middleditch’s awkwardly introspective Josh is grounding, and brings the film back to reality more than once. Middleditch has a hidden flair for the dramatic that we just barely scratch the surface of here. Joshy is a lovingly snarky comedy that finds a small degree of substance in friendship and provides a gifted cast with unexpectedly bright material.

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