Film Review: Bert and Arnie's Guide to FriendshipComedy of the romantic travails of a business executive and a novelist.
When indie comedies fail, they fail so much worse than indie dramas. Even with a well-constructed story, a comedy is so hard for a newcomer to pull off that it can still fail by not getting laughs. And this indie comedy doesn't even have a well-constructed story.
Arnie Hubert (Stephen Schneider) is a caricatured womanizing boor. When novelist Bert Sheering (Matt Oberg) discovers that his wife's "Wednesday night cooking class" is really her cheating on him with Arnie, the bespectacled and pompous Bert somehow tracks down Arnie at his luxury apartment—where they evidently have no doormen or a working intercom—brandishing a knife. But then Bert finds one of his books in Arnie's apartment. While that doesn’t make the two become friends—which is understandable even without Bert's wife leaving him, as she does—there's no particular enmity, either.
Market analyst Arnie meets his match in Sabrina Hall (Anna Chlumsky), who becomes his boss at some vaguely drawn New York firm. Sure enough, she begins using Arnie for sex, just as Arnie has done with women. Touché? Not exactly: Where the filmmakers are going after turnabout-is-fair-play irony, Sabrina simply comes across as a sexually harassing boss and an unpalatable user. These traits only get exacerbated when, through the coincidence that she's reading one of Bert's books, Arnie introduces her and Bert and she begins using Bert as well, inviting him up to her bed and then turning him into her eunuch by insisting all he do is hold her till she falls asleep.
A subplot involving the self-involved and self-deluded Bert teaching a college class and initially avoiding and then wanting a fling with nerdy, nasal, sad-sack student Faye ("Once" Tony Award-nominee Cristin Milioti) goes nowhere and simply ends. Another subplot involving Bert's book-critic nemesis, Erica (singer-songwriter Bree Sharp in her film debut), climaxes in a ridiculous, credulity-straining way that—suffice it to say without giving spoilers—is the adolescent fantasy of filmmakers with a very tenuous grasp of what real life and real people are like.
All this is framed by interview sequences in which Bert and Arnie sit against a white seamless background and speak with an unseen interviewer. Why are they being interviewed? TV's "The Office" and "Modern Family," for instance, use the conceit of a documentary about a typical office or an unusual multigenerational family. There's no discernible rhyme or reason to support someone making a documentary about Bert and Arnie's relationship. But then, there's no rhyme or reason to their relationship at all. Do they hate each other, as the interview sequences suggest? Or do they like each other, as a montage of Bert and Arnie doing guy stuff together—which, wow, plays like a comedy-short parody of buddy montages—suggests?
Filmmakers Jeff Kaplan and Ian Springer attended New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, and director Kaplan is no slouch in terms of technical craft. Working with actors doesn't appear to be his strong suit, however, given that some behave naturalistically and others like cartoon characters, making the tone of the movie difficult to grasp. Some of the dialogue has an understated dry wit (the ever-blithe Bert offhandedly tells the interviewer of his cuckolding, "I was shocked—not that my wife had been unfaithful, that happens every day”), but when the three main characters are horrible people without even the potentially saving grace of charm, the proceedings are too leaden to generate laughs or good feelings.