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LITERALLY, RIGHT BEFORE AARON (2017) review

October 5, 2017

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written by: Ryan Eggold
produced by: Ryan Eggold, Ross Kohn, Cassandra Kulukundis & Nancy Leopardi
directed by: Ryan Eggold
rated: not rated
runtime: 101 min.
U.S. release date: April 22, 2017 (Tribeca Film Festival) and September 29, 2017 (limited/VOD/Amazon/iTunes)

 

Have you ever received a call from an ex that you still not quite over and you haven’t spoken with since the break-up? Someone you were good friends with and you just can’t figure out what went wrong? You may want to know what’s going on in their life, but you know it’ll just be too hard when you find out that he or she is doing just fine, maybe even great, without you. That’s how writer/director Ryan Eggold’s dramedy “Literally, Right Before Aaron” starts off and these are just some of the questions and themes the stuck main character, played by Justin Long, navigates as he comically and tragically finds himself in awkward and painful situations, revolving around the girl he still has a thing for. 

As an editor for eccentric nature show host/documentarian, Orson (Peter Gallagher), who’s speciality is highlighting animal mating rituals, thirtysomething Adam (Justin Long) has found his life lacking in that department after spiraling out of a relationship with Allison (Cobie Smulders) a little over a year ago. Still stung from that experience, he receives a call from her, announcing her upcoming wedding to Aaron (Ryan Hansen) in San Francisco, extending an invitation to Adam, who agrees to attend, not wanting to communicate his awkwardness or make it seem like they can’t maintain a friendship with her. With memories of his relationship with Allison still fresh on his mind and blinding him from reality, Adam begins to entertain thoughts of winning her back, preventing him from acknowledging his pain and own restlessness with where he’s at in life.

 

 

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Most of “Literally, Right Before Adam” relies on comedy to navigate through loneliness and feeling left behind by someone you still have a thing for. These are feelings common to anyone who’s been in and out of relationships. There’s usually at least one break-up that finds you puzzled and maybe even imagining what would’ve happened if you stayed together, as well as fantasizing over a possible reunification. It’s material ripe for a comedy, but there’s also the risk of minimizing some raw and real emotions while aiming for laughs.

Thankfully, writer/director Ryan Eggold (best known as an actor and his role on NBC’s “The Blacklist”), isn’t going for a raunchy or broad tone here, focusing more on Adam’s struggles with his thoughts, emotions and behavior. We first see Adam’s internal conflict during a dinner date with his current girlfriend, Julie (Briga Heelan), whom he shocks with his own marriage proposal out of left field. It’s clear Adam is impulsively trying out such a major life step in his own life, after getting off the phone with Allison, blinding him from considering. He then proceeds to renege his sudden offer, causing Julie to turn around and permanently (and understandably) break-up with him. Eggold establishes here that Adam is clearly mixed up and should not be in any relationship while being preoccupied with the thought of his alleged true love marrying anyone but him.

As Adam makes his way up to San Francisco, more memories return of his time with Allison – how they met, places they’ve been together and things they did – as he runs into friends and family who know his history with Allison very well. One run-in with an old pal (a hilarious Malcolm Barett) at a library opens and pokes at Adam’s wounds the upcoming wedding is brought up repeatedly. He can’t quite help thinking about how this library is the location where Adam first met Allison and introduced himself in a forward albeit charming manner. There’s also Adam’s brief check-in visit with his mom (played by Lea Thompson – who at age 56 years-young just doesn’t look old enough to be the mother of 39 year-old Long), who still has a framed photo of Allison and him on a counter and asks her son if he’s gonna look her up, not knowing he’s in town to attend his ex’s wedding. These awkward moments seem real yet forced, resembling comedic moments familiar to sitcoms, yet they also serve as a reminder of the memories and perceptions of your life that family and acquaintences hold on to.

 

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With the wedding drawing near, Eggold cranks up the uncomfortable situations and emphasizes the building pressure inside Adam. It’s easy to think – Why is he so uptight? Why did he even put himself in this situation? What’s he hoping for? – but at no point is Eggold suggesting Long’s Adam is making rational decisions. He’s leading with a conflicted heart and confused head, which ultimately makes for a sad character more than it does provide a character to root for or laugh with. Sure, comedy comes from a variety of places – like a date, Talula (Kristen Schaal), for the festivities being thrust upon Adam and a funny encounter with an kitchen employee, Federico (the great Luis Guzman), who offers Tom Petty lyrics as wisdom nuggets while sharing a joint with Adam – but there’s an underlying wounded soul that that could’ve been developed a little more if you ask me.

The inevitable confrontation between Adam and Allison at the wedding reception gives Smulders the opportunity to stretch out beyond the “dream girl” role and Long a moment to convey a convincing urgent vulnerability. It’s the best scene between the two and made me want more scenes where we get to know more about Smulders’ Allison, especially who she is now, as opposed to the Allison from Adam’s memories. That scene leads to some hilarity that closes the movie with typical outbursts and embarrassingly bad moves, as well as deliberate nods to Mike Nichols’ “The Graduate”, minus Mrs. Robinson (although you could consider a perfectly cast, and all-too-brief, Dana Delany as Smulder’s mom stepping into Anne Bancroft’s shoes).

“Literally, Right Before Aaron” comes across as work derived from a personal place, and Eggold (who also edited) has assembled a cast that seems more than up to the task. At times, it feels like Long is working overtime to produce laughs, not relying enough on his impulsive behavior and wounded heart to carry the film. While, some of the flashbacks feel like added fat to what was likely a lean, straightforward tale (no surprise, considering the feature is an adaptation of a 2011 short from Eggold),that could’ve benefitted from more drama and less comedy, I still believe that there’s enough here to relate to and have some fun with.

 

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RATING: **1/2

 

 

 

 

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