Directed by Bob Byington
Written by Bob Byington
It may seem like a fool’s errand to ascribe deeper meaning to a 75-minute lark of a movie, but it’s not terribly difficult to spot a theme recurring throughout Somebody Up There Likes Me, specific to the very meaning of life. Of course, because this comedy (closer to an anti-comedy, really) is content staying in the lowest possible key throughout its brief running time, the analysis of what it is to be an adult in the modern world isn’t too incisive. Still, Somebody Up There Likes Me is consistently entertaining enough to get by.
Keith Poulson plays Max, an aimless young waiter in Los Angeles who’s given a mysterious briefcase one day, which he’s instructed not to open. So, of course, he opens it as soon as he has a chance. (We never see its insides, though they shine much like the fabled briefcase in Pulp Fiction.) Max and his best friend Sal (Nick Offerman) have a fairly laid-back lifestyle, until Max gets involved with Lyla (Jess Weixler), another waitress at the steakhouse where they work. Max and Sal end up feeling equally fond of Lyla, even after Max gets married to her and they have a child. The most interesting aspect of Max’s life (or how he perceives his life) is that everyone around him ages, but he stays the same age even 10, 15, 20 years into the future.
Somebody Up There Likes Me is perfectly happy operating on a minimalist scale, so even at its best, it’s a bubble of a movie, ready to pop if you look at it the wrong way. What the film boasts, for the most part, is a supporting cast filled with enough recognizable actors to lend it an air of legitimacy. Offerman, who co-produced the film, is best known for his riotous work on Parks and Recreation. And it’s difficult, in a few late scenes—really the highlight of the film—when Max and Sal open their own restaurant, to not hear in Offerman’s voice the familiar tone and cadence of Pawnee’s own Ron Swanson. Still, Offerman’s a familiar, welcome presence here, and gets a few good laughs from his odd behavior at Max’s wedding. Poulson goes for the most deadpan of all line readings, his dryness working for a while, if not the film’s entirety. It’s here that the length of Somebody Up There Likes Me works in its favor—the longer we stay with Max, constantly stuck in traction as an aimless hipster, the more aggravating he gets.
Writer-director Bob Byington spruces up the proceedings with animated interludes to break up each section, but they’re so short (well-done, but short) that you almost begin to wonder why they exist at all. (The animation is pleasant enough and an OK transition, but again, most are barely 30 seconds long.) Along with the score from Vampire Weekend’s Chris Baio, Somebody Up There Likes Me frequently borders on being insufferably twee, but always manages to toe the line adequately. Poulson has a decent, if awkward, chemistry with Weixler and Stephanie Hunt, who plays the sultry family nanny whose charms are too good for Max to pass up. (Of course, any fans of Friday Night Lights may be taken aback by Hunt, formerly the nerdy Devon on that show, acting and looking much different here.)
Somebody Up There Likes Me poses a number of intriguing questions about how the Millennial generation acts so immaturely, as if they may never truly grow up and become full-fledged adults, and how we don’t realize the aging process in ourselves even as we see it flourishing all around us. Anchored less by its lead performance and more through the ensemble, brevity, and flashes of wit popping up every few minutes, Somebody Up There Likes Me is slight, but the right kind of slight. You may not remember this film in years to come as more than a stepping stone for its writer-director—Byington is assured enough behind the camera that he should get recognized for his visual aesthetic—but its literalization of the basic notion of what modern man considers the meaning of life is fascinating enough to make it stand out, if only for a few moments.
— Josh Spiegel