7 Chinese Brothers (2015)
I don’t care how charming Jason Schwartzman may be, he cannot be your entire film.
There have been plenty of films built almost entirely on the backs of their lead characters. However, it should never be the practice to have that be the film’s only clear reason for existing. Hell, even Ferris Bueller’s Day Off had the good grace to have some semblance of engaging plot and side characters with more development than a simplified summary, and that one had the main character’s name in the title. 7 Chinese Brothers just doesn’t seem to have the time nor the energy to think up another reason for trotting across your screen. Outside of Schwartzman, it is pretty meaningless.
Byington wants us to side with Larry although he doesn’t entirely seem to know why.
Don’t get me wrong, Schwartzman does a damn good job of flexing his comedic muscles this time out. His Larry is effortless in pretty much every sense of the word. Content in lazy nothingness, he lives only to hang about. Yeah, he has a job, but that’s only so he can put food and a ton of booze into his mouth. Larry simply doesn’t care about anything that doesn’t have a direct effect on Larry. In terms of character, that is all well in good, but when that attitude seemingly carries over into the actual production of the film, it makes it all seem a bit slight and like Larry, not mature enough to take seriously.
There is an ease to the film’s execution. Bob Byington’s script hews ever so closely to mumblecore and for the most part the conversational tone works for the interactions. He excels in levity and the awkward adjacent. However, upon introducing any semblance of conflict he tends to stick much more to generalities and stereotypes. Those that oppose Larry are drawn as brutes and jerks. Their motives are purely selfish, somewhat ironically similar to Larry’s own, but as they are shown, their selfishness can only manifest itself in greed and violence, whereas Larry’s is carefree and all in good fun. Byington wants us to side with Larry although he doesn’t entirely seem to know why. Is it because the only other option is a dick? That can’t be the only reason.
As his skill with the more conversational would suggest, the film is at its best when it is just dealing with the relationships. Putting aside the idea of a story and looking at the film as nothing more than a series of character interactions, it really isn’t that bad. Schwartzman gets along and has a good time with the majority of the cast. The friendship between Tunde Adebimpe’s Major Norwood and Larry is genuine and believable, albeit unfairly one-sided, again speaking to Byington’s persistent need to show Larry as the underdog. Similarly, Eleanore Pienta’s Lupe is reserved enough to act as an adequate foil to the more juvenile Larry. But Byington doesn’t seem all that concerned with delving very deeply into Lupe or Norwood, so even these looks at relationships remain mere glimpses. For a film so concerned with one character, it just doesn’t spend enough time showing us who he is or really offering any insight.
For a film so concerned with one character, it just doesn’t spend enough time showing us who he is or really offering any insight.
We remain much like the rest of the world, an audience to Larry’s show, which, in all honesty, often happens to be pretty funny. Schwartzman is exceedingly comfortable on camera and can milk laughter from the most insignificant of actions. Nothing makes this more apparent than the scenes between Schwartzman and his own dog, Arrow. Arrow largely acts as the audience surrogate, fighting eyelids whose weight compounds by the minute as Larry goes on large labyrinthine jags all to elicit some kind of reaction. We may be more welcoming of the laughter and energy than Arrow, but all of the interactions eventually register about the same amount of cognitive impression.
7 Chinese Brothers has several bits that would hint at something better. The relationships are honest and the humor genuine. However, the film feels hopelessly thoughtless and emotionally empty. Your appreciation of the film is directly related to yours of Jason Schwartzman. His inherent likability, derived from a modicum of self-effacing charm, seemingly misplaced confidence, and a heaping helping of quirk, will grate on some and be more than pleasing for others. While the film may manage to have a lived-in quality, it’s little more than a field for Schwartzman to play in. 7 Chinese Brothers is a representation of why so many viewers choose to minimize independent film. It is enamored by its own wit and quirkiness to the point that it doesn’t even bother to tell a captivating story. A film has to be more than Jason Schwartzman riffing, and 7 Chinese Brothers just isn’t.
7 Chinese Brothers is a representation of why so many viewers choose to minimize independent film. It is enamored by its own wit and quirkiness to the point that it doesn’t even bother to tell a captivating story. A film has to be more than Jason Schwartzman riffing, and 7 Chinese Brothers just isn’t.