Film Review: Social Animals

Two endearing losers find love in a hipster city.
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This rom-com from writer and first-time director Theresa Bennett is easy viewing: It is make-you-chuckle funny, it has a mellow indie soundtrack, it stars a few good actors who will make you go, “Hey, I know them from somewhere,” and it strikes a neat, “All’s well that ends well” note that leaves you feeling more or less satisfied. It is also nothing that you haven’t seen before, unless of course you’ve never been to Austin, Texas, in which case the city may surprise you (pleasantly or otherwise, depending on your politics) with its overtly hipster vibe.

Zoe (Noël Wells from “Master of None”) here takes her place among the ranks of lovable losers captured on film: She’s nearing 30, living alone in a trailer parked on land she can’t afford to rent, watching her bikini-waxing business go bankrupt as customers flock to the chain spa across the street. Paul (Josh Radnor of “How I Met Your Mother”) is also failing at life. His business, a video store, is floundering as well. He, however, unlike Zoe, is not in danger of becoming homeless anytime soon, thanks to his lawyer wife, Jane (Aya Cash, perhaps best known for The Wolf of Wall Street and the best part of this film), who financially supports him and their three children. But Paul’s marriage, though once a love-match, is in trouble, and when uptight Jane suggests they each have an affair, Paul sets his sights on Zoe. Paul and Zoe both made mixed CDs in high school, so they banter about the debatable coolness of Tom Petty. And they watch films on a rooftop projector surrounded by pillows that look tag-sale chic. It’s that kind of connection.

If you do not like the actress Zooey Deschanel, who is the archetypal cutesy hipster, odds are you will not like Noël Wells, even with her slightly sharper edge, or Social Animals. On the one hand, the film has a definite aesthetic, a definite point of view, and it makes the Austin street-art scene look definitely splashy. Bennett is in command of the film’s tone and it never tries to be anything more than what it is. It is flea-market teacup precious…if that teacup were filled with bourbon, and served with a saucer full of Trojan condoms. But that, after all, is the hipster ethos.

On the other hand, Bennett’s point of view, while well executed, is also familiar—maybe too familiar. Like most comedies these days, there are lots of dick jokes here, which are kind of funny, although watching women practice fellatio on food is nothing new; and the movie’s other jokes, while also kind of funny, breeze by with the ephemerality of wind fluttering the hem of a thrift-store dress. With the exception of one or two quips spoken by Cash, who can make a panic attack while getting her nether regions waxed almost moving. Would that the film had followed her and her more interesting, messier neuroses.

But overall, Social Animals lacks the go-for-broke outrageousness of a Girls Trip, for instance, or a sharper wit, or a sillier voice, or a stranger approach, any one of which could have made it stand apart from the zany hipster pack. As it is, Social Animals is a solid effort. Which is not the worst thing you can say about a film. Or the best.

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