Editor’s Note: Dealin’ with Idiots is now open in limited release and on VOD
There’s a lovely little meta-movie moment in the midst of Dealin’ with Idiots where Max, the comedian played by co-writer/director Jeff Garlin, has the sudden idea to base his next film on the various eccentrics surrounding him at his son’s baseball game. It’s the springboard from which the film launches, both literally and figuratively: it’s not hard to imagine the real-life Garlin in this very scenario, his mind latching onto the vague seed of a comic idea and letting it germinate, fed by the boredom of a slow Saturday game. It’s almost amusing in itself just how primordial the setup is; this is no high-concept comedy, rather just a regular guy gazing around, thinking “hey, aren’t people funny?”
It’s not just the presence of Fred Willard that brings to mind the films of Christopher Guest here: Garlin’s style of everyday absurdism is evidently indebted to the naturalistic improvisations on which Guest’s narratives are forged.
And funny they certainly are, particularly when given life by the excellent assortment of actors Garlin ropes in to join him in mining the optimum awkwardness and oddity from the most mundane interactions imaginable. It’s not just the presence of Fred Willard that brings to mind the films of Christopher Guest here: Garlin’s style of everyday absurdism is evidently indebted to the naturalistic improvisations on which Guest’s narratives are forged. It’s a style that finds extraordinary humour in ordinary humans, content enough in the quirkiness of its workaday folk to not need to look far beyond the bounds of its own lawn to find the laughs to flesh out a feature. Garlin may not be a terribly experienced director—this is his second feature, amidst a handful of shorts—but he’s smart enough to scale back the production and let these comic minds have at it.
It takes a presence as inherently likeable as Garlin’s to get away with so audaciously simple a setup; the narrative, insofar as it could even be called that, involves Max interviewing his fellow parents and trainers as research for his prospective movie, spending time with each of them in turn to get a sense of the personalities that constitute this makeshift community. Much more a loose sequence of sketches than any sort of overarching story, it’s a structure that works—and how!—thanks to the ingenuity of its cast. Bob Odenkirk begins proceedings with a sequence so sharp it’s hard to believe the movie isn’t peaking before our eyes. He scores a slew of side-splitting laughs, Garlin the reactionary straight man to his self-important store owner who belittles his employees while maintaining the friendliest façade he can.
His camera, so quiet a presence, is not so much a fly on the wall as it is all flies on all walls: these characters are—this comedy is—that of the everyday; these absurdities are our absurdities, far enough removed that we can see how close to us they are.
How hard an act that is for Richard Kind to follow; it’s when he does, and with even greater success, that Garlin’s hands reveal just how safe they are. He has crafted here something wonderful: a comedy without conceit, born solely of the silly little details of suburban life blown up for all the world to see, and in turn to see in themselves. His camera, so quiet a presence, is not so much a fly on the wall as it is all flies on all walls: these characters are—this comedy is—that of the everyday; these absurdities are our absurdities, far enough removed that we can see how close to us they are. His cast may be studded with famous faces, but it’s as impeccably observed incarnations of the people in our own lives that we recognise them mostly.
How lucky we are to have a comedy like Dealin’ with Idiots, so delightfully low-key and determinedly low-concept. That it was funded at all is a minor miracle; that it worked to boot is a major one. Garlin has his hiccups, certainly, chief among them a misjudged recurring fantasy where he seeks counsel from his own childhood coach; as do his cast, some of whom have a harder time fitting into this framework as the likes of Odenkirk, Kind, and Willard. But such minor mishaps are a small price to pay for a movie this reliably funny, this dedicated to finding comedy in the life we all know, to entertaining us with ourselves and making us a part of the joke. The great coup of Dealin’ with Idiots is never letting its title refer to its audience.
[notification type=”star”]79/100 ~ GOOD. The great coup of Dealin’ with Idiots is never letting its title refer to its audience.[/notification]