In The Favor, Frank Wood plays sad-sack good guy Lawrence, surely one of the most exasperating characters to ever cross a screen. After stoically putting up with mountainous loads of crap from sullen, bad-behaving Johnny (Ryan Donowho), whom he thoughtfully adopted as the titular favor to a dead woman (Laura Breckenridge) he loved, he finally explodes, “You’ve ruined my life and now you’ve killed my dog!” in what may be 2008’s single worst movie line. Seeing the character then grieve over what is obviously a stuffed toy merely compounds the risibility.
We’re in indie hell again, kids, having to endure yet another small, “sensitive” character study of unassuming “little” folk trying their best under trying circumstances, all amounting to the purest banality. Writer-director Eva Aridjis comes up with the profession of pet photographer for Lawrence, which should tell you all you need to know about the two-ton quirkiness of her creative scope. Here’s more: She has Johnny’s mother suddenly, unconvincingly die in a freak accident involving his guitar cord. Aridjis’ directorial technique is unsteady, to put it mildly, never more so than when her camera awkwardly pans back and forth between Johnny and his pot-dealer pal (an obnoxious Jesse Kelly, overdoing the scripted tin-eared teenage use of “Dude”), in one of their endless, aimless conversations.
Wood’s performance takes decency way beyond the call of duty—he makes Karl Malden at his most saintly look like the height of malevolence. Why Lawrence stupidly endures Johnny’s recalcitrance, selfishness and abuse instead of just giving him one good whack or sending him packing is a mystery, but, given the smarmy overindulgence of most modern-day parenting of the brattiest kids (“Let’s negotiate”), perhaps he merely cannot see any other way. (The severest foster home would be too good for this punk.) Donowho rotely does adolescent anomie and angst, with nothing of the empathic depth or sensitivity with which James Dean or the young Leonardo DiCaprio might have redeemed this clichéd role.