New York City teenager Howie Sheffield spends his mornings dressing for the blonde on the city bus. Afternoons are masturbatory hangouts in front of cooking shows with his younger brother and friends. Meanwhile, his parents argue while he barely acknowledges the girl who chats him up in the school library.
Such are the pieces of All These Small Moments, an indie drama that’s more a collection of bits than a cohesive whole. The film is both in theaters on Jan. 17 and available On Demand Jan. 18.
First-time writer-director Melissa Miller Costanzo, an art department veteran (If Beale Street Could Talk, TV’s The Affair), captures the ennui of Howie’s family well enough. The mood and tone is similar to Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale (2005), with some good performances. But the characters, especially Howie (Brendan Meyer, TV’s The OA), could be better developed and the story more focused.
Howie is a shy, mopey youth who doesn’t propel the plot as much as he lets it nudge him along. Characters tend to announce things to him, such as his mom (Molly Ringwald, TV’s Riverdale) blurting out in a waiting room, “Relationships are complicated, OK?”
Ringwald, a beloved ’80s teen queen in films like Sixteen Candles and an endearing mom on TV’s The Secret Life of the American Teenager, is mostly brittle and bitter here. As her husband, Brian d’Arcy James (Spotlight, TV’s 13 Reasons Why) fares better, generating empathy over their estrangement and wanting to be a good father.
Small moments can have huge resonance, but All These Small Moments follows too many—and at too slow a pace—to pack a huge payoff. While his parents have marital troubles, Howie becomes fascinated with Odessa (Jemima Kirke, TV’s Girls), an older blonde who rides the same bus as he does to school each morning. “You can tell she does womanly things, like gets manicures and eats petit fours,” he says in one of the more amusing lines.
Odessa eventually introduces herself after lots of staring on his part, some classroom poetry, and an awkward touch of her hand. She’s having her own tough time, but why she finds this teenager alluring is anyone’s guess.
Howie’s brother, Simon (Sam McCarthy, TV’s The Blacklist), has more spark, as does Lindsay (Harley Quinn Smith, TV’s Supergirl), the girl in the school library determined to befriend Howie. McCarthy, son of Ringwald’s ’80’s costar Andrew McCarthy (TV’s The Family), and Smith, daughter of filmmaker Kevin Smith (Yoga Hosers, Hollyweed), each have a natural sass that cracks to show believable hurt, with Smith especially delivering an affecting monologue.
Costanzo tugs on a lot of threads in this family tapestry, but the result is misshapen.