Somebody Up There Likes Me is the kind of movie that you — or, well, I — watch, and then watch immediately again from the beginning. Not because it’s so great, mind you, but because it’s so bizarre and full of deadpan humor. I had to get a do-over just to make sure I caught all the one-lines, delivered invariably with the enthusiasm of a fast food cashier.
The story (no relation to the 1956 Rocky Graziano movie at all), what there is of one, revolves around perennial loser Max (Keith Poulson) and his friend/mentor Sal (Nick Offerman), who endure 35 years of failure, success, romance, and heartache, not necessarily in that order.
The story begins with Max already at rock bottom. He’s young but divorced and has picked up some flowers from the cemetery to try to make amends with his ex. This works about as well as expected, and soon Max is working at a steakhouse with his buddy Sal. Here he meets a new lady friend, the eccentric Lyla (Jess Weixler), and soon they are married. Fast forward five years. Now Max is rich and having an affair with the nanny. He’s so well-off that Sal has moved into his mansion with him. Fast forward another five years. Max is down and out again and has a snack shack with Sal. Another five, and he’s fabulously wealthy with a chain of them.
Max and Sal don’t really age in the film, but everyone around them does. Sort of, anyway. There was clearly a limited makeup budget to work with, but director Bob Byington makes sure that even when actors change — as in the case of Max’s son — they continue to wear the same clothes so you know who’s who.
A film like this is hard to really dig into, both as a viewer and as a critic. It is basically nonsense that just barely masks a fable about life whizzing by, but on a more basic level it is a platform for Byington to show off his droll sense of humor. Max plays the completely hapless, emotionally stunted rube, while Offerman gets the best lines as the straight man. (“How old are you?” [pause] “Tell me you don’t have to think about the answer to that question.”) The film hits and misses, but the highs are awfully funny.
Oddly enough I can get behind that. Somebody is unbearably goofy, and watching Max and Sal’s misadventures is alternately hysterical and baffling. The leads have a good chemistry, and while the female parts aren’t very well developed, they might not need to be, the movie’s spare 79 minutes playing more like an extra-long Seinfeld, a comedy of errors.
This isn’t mumblecore, but it isn’t slapstick, either. File under mumblestick, perhaps?