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The Second City Almanac of Improvisation
by Anne Libera
(Discounted Paperback from Amazon)
"I Want Someone To Eat Cheese With"
Not having ever watched "Curb Your Enthusiasm" on a regular or, even, irregular basis, I had no idea of who Jeff Garlin was, though he wrote, directed and stars in this low-budget, low-concept comedy pastiche that comes to us in the guise of a series of episodes in the life of James, a man in search of a life. The episodes being strung together in an entirely chronological order separated by fades to black, there's no difficulty in following along as the 2nd City comedian leads us through them as though they were skits in his existence.
James is chubby, aka, fat. He lives with his mother. He probably realizes that as an actor the only award he's likely to earn will be the one for Least Engaging. He quits an acting job as an attack interviewer for want of social decency. He snacks on junk food alone, at night, on the hood of his car, a satisfying highlight of his day in the wan glow of a streelight. He's got a close and loyal friend, and a few fellow actors who are somewhat less loyal. He hears that someone is redoing the film, "Marty," and is as upset by some goon remaking a classic he loves as he is anxious to play the part.
His agent fires him (yes, they can do that), his psychologist fires him (ditto), he's celibate not by choice, and his desire to lose weight is just so much verbiage. Yet, he's a sweet unassuming guy and we like him. And, one day, he meets Beth (Sarah Silverman) who seems at first like a soul mate who sees no wrong in his size. This svelte beauty not only isn't turned off by his size, she's hot for it. She admits that she's trying to find someone to eat cheese with but has no boyfriends other than guys she wants to have sex with. She's as seductive as a siren from hell. And, she's never slept with a fat guy. "Neurotic" doesn't get it.
Guess who breaks his 5-year cherry with an overnighter when his mom is away playing canasta. The only thing wrong with this picture is that he falls in love while she remains on her one-night gig and finds his second night appearance at her door annoying. The cab driver sensed it the minute he saw James with a a floral arrangement for his "girl" and offered to wait. But, no, James played it out differently in his mind.
The cast is comprised of a fine bunch of comedians known best on the stand-up circuits, SNL and improv corners -- clearly at home on Garlin's quirky wavelength, with Silverman most memorable for her gifts and her giftgiving. Bonnie Hunt is lovely as his best friend's daughter's grade-school teacher. Elle Fanning as that best freind's daughter Penelope and she's adorable enough. Aaron Carter is touching as Marty, James' reliable best friend.
Disappointment followed by optimism is the name of James' game, and the formula produces some humor (chuckles, yaks and slow burners) and a lot of bitter-sweet fatalism. It's not going anywhere in particular, but getting there proves funny and harmless enough.
~~ Jules Brenner