Film Review: Blumenthal

Seth Fisher’s low-key but promising directorial debut is marred by the presence of his star: Seth Fisher.

Blumenthal has a lot going for it: a witty premise, a talented ensemble of players, and above-average production values; yet, this New York-set farce moves a little too tentatively and never takes off. The tame nature of the execution is partly to blame. So is Fisher’s performance. Ultimately, the film seems destined for limited cable or online viewing.

Fisher is not the “Blumenthal” of the title, though he does play a member of the Jewish clan. Playwright Harold Blumenthal (Brian Cox) has just died and his brother, Saul (Mark Blum), Saul’s wife, Cheryl (Laila Robbins), and their son, Ethan (Fisher), try to reconcile their grief with their hatred for their celebrated relative.

While Saul makes arrangements for Harold’s estate, his anger takes the form of chronic constipation. Saul is especially peeved that Harold made his mark—and his money—by using Saul’s memoirs as material for his plays. Cheryl is increasingly annoyed with Saul for his insensitivity toward her concerns about aging. Her attempts to both revive her acting career and have an affair are fraught with setbacks. Ethan, a salesman for “women’s products,” falls out with his acupuncturist girlfriend, Christina (Mei Melancon), and looks for some new excitement in his routine existence. When a mysterious woman, Fiona (Nicole Ansari), enters the picture and asserts she was Harold’s lover, Saul and Ethan reassess their hardened feelings.

Comparisons to middle-period Woody Allen films seem inevitable, but whether homage or rip-off, Blumenthal stands on its own and avoids the pitfall of trying too hard to be “quirky” with cartoonish characters and situations. Seth Fisher shows a penchant for comic timing in both his script and direction, and most of the film is at least pleasant, even when lacking a creative look or sound, including the generic score by Noah and the Megafauna.

Frustratingly, the best aspects of Blumenthal are the least explored. Brian Cox is perfect as the obnoxious late author, yet we only see and hear him during snippets of an interview on a “Charlie Rose”-type program (a great parody). Laila Robbins is excellent as Cheryl and her part is substantial, but her funniest bits, including her attempt to re-enter the acting profession, are few and far between. Other supporting players are also engaging, including Alexander Cendese as Ethan’s best friend and Nicole Ansari as Fiona, though their screen time is brief.

Thus, the most fully -developed role (Ethan) is played by the least interesting actor (Fisher), Blumenthal’s fatal error. Perhaps with a different, more personable performer, the film would have better succeeded. Still, one wonders if anyone could have saved its worst, crudest scene: Ethan getting a handjob while casually conversing with a woman he “picks up.” And why is Ethan the center of the story, anyway? His tenuous connection to his uncle makes him almost irrelevant to a clever faux-biographic study of celebrity.

Though a missed opportunity, Blumenthal contains bits and pieces to savor.