An aimless man in his 30s leaves the big city where he works at a corporate job and heads back to his small hometown for the funeral of a close family member. There, he reconnects with old friends, reassesses his priorities and learns to appreciate a quieter, slower way of life. It’s the plot of dozens of indie dramedies, most of them not very good, and at first glance director Paul Riccio’s Give or Take seems to be following that same template.
Martin (Jamie Effros, who co-wrote the screenplay with Riccio) returns to Cape Cod from New York City, arriving at his childhood home to prepare for his father’s funeral. He’s clearly out of place among the earthy townies in his fancy suits, and he feels uncomfortable in a home that he no longer quite recognizes as his. At a local bar, he falls back into an easy rapport with Emma (Joanne Tucker), the girl he always had a crush on as a teenager. Meanwhile, he ignores or responds curtly to texts and calls from his high-maintenance girlfriend (Annapurna Sriram) back in New York.
But Riccio and Effros add a new dimension to the well-worn story by pairing Martin with Ted (Norbert Leo Butz), who’s also living at the house when Martin arrives. Ted is Martin’s father’s longtime live-in boyfriend, and he represents a part of his dad’s life that Martin doesn’t understand or relate to. Martin’s parents were married for most of his life, so it’s not surprising that he has trouble accepting the romantic partner that his father moved on with following his mother’s death six years earlier, whether that’s a man or a woman. It’s not just about Martin’s dad taking up with a man, though: Everything that Ted and Emma and other town residents say about his dad sounds foreign to Martin, as if his dad turned into a completely different person once he started dating Ted. Martin grew up with an aloof, judgmental father, and he feels like he was deprived of the friendly, open guy that his dad became in his later years.
Martin and Ted seem to have a cordial but distant relationship at first, and they clash more directly as the movie goes on. Martin tries to wrap up his dad’s affairs quickly, enlisting prominent local real estate agent Patty King (Cheri Oteri) to sell the house, and treating Ted more like a loose end to tie up than a human being also suffering a devastating loss. The filmmakers don’t portray Martin as a homophobe, and his discomfort with Ted is far more complex than simple prejudice. For his part, Ted is also resentful of Martin, and maybe also a little resentful that his partner of six years didn’t bother to leave him any kind of inheritance.
Effros and Butz play these characters as fully fleshed-out people, with deep emotions and motivations, rather than as stereotypes, and Riccio builds strong secondary characters as well. Martin may still carry a torch for Emma, but she’s happily married with kids, and she’s only interested in being a supportive friend for Martin (and for Ted, too). Give or Take offers enough variations on a familiar set-up to feel unique and authentic, with a lived-in sense of the Cape Cod location and a sensitive approach to its central characters.
Oteri provides just the right amount of comic relief as the cheerful but relentless Patty, ready to strike the moment it looks like a house may be going on the market, and there are gentle, appealing moments of humor throughout the low-key movie. The story leans a little too far into cheesy sentiment toward the end, wrapping up thorny relationships a bit too neatly, but like both Martin and Ted, it has its heart in the right place.