When your big Hollywood feature film debut was playing the mentally handicapped hostage in Gigli, I can imagine it would be hard to continue having a career afterwards. And yet somehow, Justin Bartha has managed to parlay that early embarrassment into fruitful supporting roles as Nic Cage’s dorky tech sidekick in two National Treasures and as the guy who doesn’t get to have any fun in The Hangover. Now he gets to put his comedic chops to the test by fronting his own indie comedy. Unfortunately for him, that indie comedy is the laughless CanCon disaster Sorry For Your Loss.
It’s not even that I mind Bartha that much as an actor. He’s got a smug wiseass thing going on that’s been put to good use in smaller films like Todd Solondz’s Dark Horse and Elizabeth Wood’s White Girl. But as a put-upon new father in writer-director Collin Friesen’s Winnipeg-set film, he’s forced to listlessly walk through a series of increasingly cringe worthy set pieces that just makes everyone involved look pretty, pretty bad.
Friesen, who previously scripted the Robin Williams Fargo-esque stinker The Big White and a CTV movie called Plague City: SARS in Toronto before making his directorial debut here, seems to have pulled the screenplay for Sorry For Your Loss out of a drawer where it’s been gathering dust since the 1980s, considering how dated the concept and jokes seem.
Ken (Bartha) is your stereotypical comedy movie new father, simultaneously exhausted, depressed and horny because he hasn’t had sex with his wife in months because, you know, they have a newborn. This results in an opening scene where Ken’s wife Lori (Inbar Lavi) unenthusiastically gives him a handjob that I hope was much funnier during the table read than the airless, stagy nature of the end result. When Ken gets word that his estranged father has passed away, he goes home for the funeral, only to be given the task of granting his father’s final wish of having his ashes scattered on the field at Investor’s Stadium (where the curiously unmentioned Winnipeg Blue Bombers play) or else he doesn’t receive his inheritance. Teaming up with his father’s crass friend Jeff (a majorly slumming Bruce Greenwood), he accepts this random mission and learns to sort of love the father he never really knew, flaws and all, while also maturing into an adult man who can handle his adult responsibilities and blah, blah, blah.
The problem is that Ken’s father, by all accounts, truly is a selfish loser who’s never had any redeeming qualities, yet Ken is still supposed to learn the value of family anyway. This kind of family loyalty morality message may have played decades ago in a cheesy mainstream comedy but feels tonally out of touch with the modern world, especially since this very real dynamic could have been explored in a more caustic and relevant way.
I’ve also rarely seen a movie with so many familiar faces (also finding room for Lolita Davidovich, Sandrine Holt and poor, poor Kevin McDonald) that feels so amateurishly made. Right from the start, the movie opens so haphazardly and with a rushed opening title card that I honestly thought I might be watching a rough cut. It doesn’t get any better from there, filled with so many awkward cuts, ugly compositions, bland production design and tinny, temp-sounding musical cues that it made my head hurt.
The biggest problem of all, though? Not a single joke lands in this comedy wasteland, most of all the purposely offensive jokes, mostly spewed by Greenwood’s misogynist, racist (but lovable!) louche. Look, if you’re going to tackle un-PC humour, try and have some kind of wit. Otherwise, it just comes off like you’re an asshole.
One of the most ignominious bits even sees Bartha’s career come full circle, once again attempting to mimic a mentally handicapped person in order to gain entry to the stadium’s field. Didn’t you learn the first time, dude?