A couple of years back, the brilliant Coen brothers unleashed A Serious Man on unsuspecting movie audiences. The masterpiece of faith and fate, the film featured a physics professor nebbish whose own growing Anti-Semitism is tempered by a cosmic design to make his life as unlivable as possible. Within the dark comedic core was a wonderful meditation on religion, morality, and the ’60s subculture simmering beneath Larry Glopnik’s supposedly perfect suburban facade.
The Details wants to be a modern day reminder of the siblings’ era-appropriate satire. Sadly, writer/director Jacob Aaron Estes is no Joel or Ethan. He’s barely a comic, dark or otherwise. By offering characters so bugnuts insane that they make asylum inmates look like logisticians and presenting us with a wholly unlikable lead, the result is a film that forces us away, that dares us to indulge in its ever increasing array of antisocial behaviors and praise it for being right on the privileged, gated-community money. All it really ends up being is an exasperating experience of epic proportions.
Tobey Maguire is our out-of-touch lead, an obstetrician who wants better for his cipher of a wife (Elizabeth Banks, who deserves a lot better) and his infant son. He plans on adding an addition to his home in order to make more room for his growing family. While seemingly normal, he’s addicted to porn and philandering, and it’s not long before he is battling more than just building codes.
In time, he must take on invading raccoons (they want what’s under the freshly laid sod), the advances of not one — an old colleague (Kerry Washington) from medical school — but two — the nosy Gladys Kravitz cat lady type (Laura Linney) next door — women, plus a crazed, cuckolded husband (Ray Liotta). Hoping to make up for his miseries, he decides to help a buddy (Dennis Haysbert) suffering from kidney disease. Naturally, nothing works out, and things spiral dangerously out of control.
Walking the fine line between uber-weird morality tale and a total waste of time, your affection for The Details will coincide directly with home much oddball you can tolerate. If the idea of Spider-Man getting frisky with an exceeding quirky group of B-list losers excites you, then have at it. You’ll be rewarded with forced laughs, some serious character issues, and a narrative that eventually eats itself, Ouroboros style.
While trying to constantly one-up himself, writer/director Estes actually undermines his intentions. We are supposed to feel some sympathy for our mild mannered medico, only to have that consideration blow up in our faces when we discover what a diabolic douche he really is. Similarly, any act he is involved in, no matter the seriousness or severity, is written off as some manner of karmic coincidence. Indeed, Maguire is never really “the bad guy,” he’s just the questionably decent man who ends up doing very bad things.
If that doesn’t make much sense, neither does this movie. Idiosyncrasies without matching intent become pauses, not personality traits, making The Details seem decidedly longer than its 90-minute running time. Similarly, so much talent is wasted, including Liotta, Linney, and our lead, about all of whom we can’t help but wonder what drew them to this script in the first place. It’s certainly not the premise, or the lack of a real payoff. The Details could have been a lunatic lark along the lines of the Coen brothers’ best. Instead, it’s a painfully dull slog through an exceedingly stupid subdivision.