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. "The Baxter"

This romantic comedy about losers in love gave me some laughs but couldn't make me fall in love. Perhaps trying to make something vital about people with little vitality or sexual attraction is too much of a challenge in terms of holding an audience in a bond of dramatic stimulation, though writer-director-actor Michael Showalter gives it a fair go.

As Elliot Sherman, Showalter is the Baxter, Mr. Wrong, the guy a woman settles for when resigning herself to memories of more engaging company. But if, when the officiator at the ceremony asks for dissenters to dissent or forever hold their peace, an old flame (whose torch still burns) shows up to answer the question in full, watch out. It's enough to make a man know he's a loser, a shmoe, a Baxter.

Elliott realizes that someone like Caroline Swann is not likely to ever enter his life again, and he's willing to accept any quirk or disenchantment to hold onto her. She is, after all, beautiful and accomplished, if a bit dipsy. Even when she invites her old boyfriend Bradley Lake (Justin Theroux) to go out with them on dates during which serious matters needed to be discussed, Elliott is accepting. Elliott is not carrying false illusions about how far he can make demands.

Neither is modest little Cecil Mills (Michelle Williams) a temp worker at Elliott's accounting firm who has much to deal with when it comes to matters of the heart or, even, awkwardness. She shows up for her first day of employment late, wet and apologetic. Sensing a kindred spirit, perhaps, Elliott is a kind, empathetic boss who immediately understands and welcomes the newcomer from Fergus Falls, Minnesota into the office. Ever accepting is Elliott the accountant.

All of which is a nice setup that valiantly holds up its intention to be nerdy, but it goes nowhere that isn't entirely predictable and wearingly repetitive while getting there. The film offers the charm of modesty and hope for the little modest, the undynamic. It stretches into the slightly unbelievable and the strange portrayal of the anti hero Bradley as almost as much of a nerd as the main guy, only even more peculiar. Banks is sexy but so out of touch with reality in this charade that we find ourselves unable to root for anyone. What rooting we do is lame and in unintended places.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Elizabeth Banks and Michael Showalter
A not entirely unexpected distraction at the ceremony
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