SONG OF BACK AND NECK (2018)
Starring Paul Lieberstein, Rosemarie DeWitt, Robert Pine, Brian d’Arcy James, Clark Duke, Paul Feig, Sam Anderson, Ike Barinholtz, Alice Wen, Raymond Ma, Janine Poreba, Luke Spencer Roberts, Daniel Thrasher, William Wang, Edwin Kho, Coca Xie, Paul Kwo, Trinka Stotsky Soloway, Rajeev Chhibber, Treisa Gary and Jessica McKenna.
Screenplay by Paul Lieberstein.
Directed by Paul Lieberstein.
Distributed by The Orchard. 85 minutes. Not Rated.
It’s not often that they make a sweet romantic comedy revolving around chiropracture. But here you go.
Writer/director/star Paul Lieberstein – best known as Toby, one of supporting characters in NBC’s The Office – has put together a charming, if sometimes kinda goofy, romantic trifle. It revolves around the actor’s history with problems with him back and neck – and possibly even depression.
It makes for a bit of an awkward mix. Sometimes Song of Back and Neck is agreeable and entertaining. Other times it is slightly off – like the ideas are not quite firing on all cylanders. Other parts just feel weird. (Case in point: an entire subplot of the guy being so wound up that acupuncture needles make music when put in his back, turning him into a minor Asian YouTube celebrity.)
When we first meet his character Fred, he is a sad-sack whose back is bothering him so badly that he can’t get off the floor. Therefore, he tries to prepare for the day by bathing, dressing, and eating while sliding across the floor.
He’s stuck in a miserable job as a paralegal at his dad’s law firm, often tortured by a new partner (Clark Duke) who is younger than him and makes a point of making his life miserable. And, to add insult to injury, he finally has screwed up the courage to see a famous back specialist (Paul Feig) who has told him that honestly there is nothing that he can do for him.
His life changes when he starts working on a divorce case with a beautiful woman named (Rosemarie DeWitt) – who is smart, funny, sexy and just happens to also have a terrible problem with her neck. They get involved in an affair, which makes his life happier but causes tension at work. And she introduces him to her Chinese acupuncturist, who helps him with his condition and also brings him that oddball internet fame.
There is an extremely talented cast who signed on here – I assume at least some are doing it as a favor for Lieberstein on his big opportunity to helm a film – though they are sometimes a little too talented for their slightly underwritten characters.
I love Clark Duke as a comic actor, for instance, but he was all wrong for his role here. Duke was cast as a ruthless, career-and-image-obsessed lawyer at an old, established, conservative law firm. Yet, every time Duke appeared onscreen, I couldn’t help but think that there is no way in hell this kind of shark-like litigator would have such shaggily long, unkempt hair and be wearing what looked like his bar mitzvah suit. Each and every time, I was pulled right out of the story.
And Rosemarie DeWitt, even though she is perfectly charming and brings her role more depth than she is given, is just too good an actress to play such a wishy-washy character. Brian d’Arcy James is also better than the cliched absentee husband role he is given.
Still, for all its oddball quirks, Song of Back and Neck does have a sweet and charming vibe that mostly… mostly… allows you to overlook its more self-indulgent notions.
There are some funny and fanciful tweaks on the romantic comedy clichés. For example, in the inevitable climactic segment when he chases across town to win over the woman of his dreams, he does it in a motorized wheelchair and a hospital gown. Yet, he is still surprised that it doesn’t seem to work.
Song of Back and Neck is not going to change anyone’s life, but it has some subtle charms that are reminiscent of Lieberstein’s work in The Office.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2018 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: December 4, 2018.