by ALEX CARNEVALE
dir. Jeff Baena
Rather than marry Josh (Thomas Middleditch), Rachel (Alison Brie) hangs herself with his belt from a door on his birthday. In Jeff Baena's second feature, Joshy, no one seems particularly upset about this. (Rachel had recently had sex with her fiancé and found it profoundly unsatisfying.) His friends decide to throw him the bachelor party in Northern California that they had planned despite this. Josh's buds are similarly unhappy:
— Adam (Queen of Earth director Alex Ross Perry) was recently dumped by his girlfriend of ten years for being too clingy
— Ari (Adam Pally) is somewhat bored with his marriage and when he meets Jodi (Jenny Slate) they talk about how Jewish they both are
— Eric (Nick Kroll) is Nick Kroll.
It emerges that every single person at the party recently dated a woman with a Jewish name. "You are meant to be happy," screams Greg (Brett Gelman), the only individual there for the weekend who doesn't realize that Josh's bride-to-be suffocated herself to death.
What is most surprising about this mostly improvised film is how completely dull it is. Nick Kroll tries to liven things up by mugging his way through every scene, and it quickly becomes apparent that he is the most masculine of anyone present, setting something of a low bar. As the bachelor party goes on, erstwhile director Ross Perry/Adam explains the particulars of time travel paradoxes. "We're living in what's called the alpha timeline," he suggests. "We're waiting for a momentous event which has yet to occur."
Ari and Jodi have the exact same haircut, and when Ari cheats on his girlfriend their curls touch. Adam Pally is high for most of Joshy, a decision which restricts his innate likability to a soft disgust. The fact that he is unfaithful makes things even worse. All we want is someone exactly like us, Joshy suggests, and when we realize that this is not the case we turn back.
In the morning Joe Swanberg and his wife show up with their five year old son. Eric hides the bongs and the cocaine. Swanberg immediately takes over the mantle as the most masculine of the group, and Nick Kroll's Eric is feminized by his simple presence. Swanberg's facial hair alone is the most important cinematic aspect of Joshy, he is also twice the performer of anyone involved in this project. He looks like if Chris Hemsworth passed on steroids for a full calendar year.
Swanberg leaves immediately after breakfast when he and Eric fight, and before everyone takes mushrooms. Northern California is fuzzy and overcast; the weather is as improvised as the dialogue. In the fog you can't see anything, really. Eric hires strippers but Adam just ends up talking with one of them about how he resembles her stepdad. The various mid-life crises dealt with by these boy-men take over completely and Joshy becomes incredibly depressing.
The music of Joshy is the real highlight. An original score by Devendra Banhart plays over the various arguments. Rachel's parents accuse Josh of killing her and try to tape his confession, others fight over the various sex workers that visit this bachelor retreat, and Ari's internal struggles over his infidelity rotate around Banhart's drifting guitar loops.
Baena (Life After Beth) never delves more specifically into any of the character's dilemmas, giving Joshy more of a realistic feel. There is no greater moment of catharsis, and the interplay between those who know each other and those who don't is roughly the same. History, even the memories between people, have vanished in this awful place.
Women are absolutely on the outside here, but not in a way that seems purposeful or distracting. They are just other people, and so these men might easily be as feminine as their wives and girlfriends. At the center of the loss, Middleditch doesn't get very much screen time, and the lame hijinks that surround him don't seem to mitigate his grief any. As in life, he is just left with a mess of emotions and no outlet for them whatsoever. Hormones belong to everyone.
Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.