Locarno 2023 Review: LOUSY CARTER Confronts Existential Crisis, Delivers Deadpan Sardonic Comedy
David Krumholtz, Martin Starr, Olivia Thirlby, Jocelyn DeBoer, and Stephen Root star in director Bob Byington's newest dark comedy.
Austin-based independent filmmaker Bob Byington has made a return to Locarno following his previous Special Jury Prize win for Somebody Up There Likes Me. In his latest dark comedy, entitled after its main character, the eponymous protagonist receives a death sentence delivered with a deadpan expression by his doctor.
Contrary to popular expectations, with just six months to live, Carter doesn't embark on a frenzied quest to fulfill a bucket list. Rather, he carries on with his unremarkable life, approaching his impending expiration date with stoic resolve.
Byington's newest film offers a deadpan perspective on Chronicle of a Death Foretold, infused with Americana and a stab at the braindead state of the American Dream. Carter, portrayed by David Krumholtz of Oppenheimer, is a tenured literature professor teaching an indifferent class on The Great Gatsby, and an animator whose earlier work once enjoyed success. As he contemplates how to spend his remaining time, Carter chooses to revive a previously abandoned project: an animated adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s Laughter in the Dark.
Carter's no-nosense ex-girlfriend, Candela (played by Olivia Thirlby), functions as a therapeutic buffer, dispensing candid remarks that pierce through pretense. She even suggests that he could initiate an affair with one of his students. The object of this potential affair becomes Gail (portrayed by Luxy Banner), another straightforward individual in Carter's circle who remains unfazed by his future prospects and ultimately serves as a generational mirror.
Furthermore, Carter continues to visit his psychoanalyst, played by a heavily accented Stephen Root, who refrains from discussing parents due to his adherence to Jungian theory. The theme of parental blame becomes explicit when Carter visits his mother (Mona Lee Fultz) in a care facility, who, like most others, offers little sympathy for the protagonist.
Carter's closest relationship is with his colleague, Herschel Kaminski, a Russian literature teacher portrayed by Martin Starr. Starr's stone-faced portrayal of an emotionless and sardonic friend gives rise to an unusual bromance.
While Somebody Up There Likes Me explored the inevitable passage of time and the inherent absurdities of life, Lousy Carter examines these themes through the lens of unmet aspirations, societal expectations, the quest for acceptance, and the notion of self-worth. Byington continues to employ his characteristic poetics of detachment, as the protagonist remains largely disengaged from the events surrounding him, including the fatal diagnosis. The only instance that triggers Carter is his encounter with his mother.
Byington liberates Lousy Carter from any hint of pathos, opting instead to transform the story into a mid-life, arrested-development slacker comedy. David Krumholtz emerges as a likable anti-hero, maintaining his composure in the face of a life that falls short of both societal expectations and personal potential. The release of Byington's latest film is timely, coinciding with the period known as The Great Resignation.
While the film doesn't necessarily advocate for the economic ethos of the movement, the label becomes an encompassing framework for attitude and psychological adaptation. In this context, resignation and a relaxed demeanor serve as the ultimate non-conformist responses in a society characterized by overworked, under-rested high achievers.
Lousy Carter thrives on Byington's astute script, punctuated by rapid-fire, sardonic banter, and an ensemble cast adeptly elevating the deadpan humor. The film's dry, offbeat comedy penetrates the facade of middle-class intellectualism, even painting academics as uninhibited, man-child figures.
Eschewing a melancholic tone, Byington confronts existential crises with the cathartic essence of Dudeism. Although some motifs may seem recognizable, it is the incisive dialogues that drive the film toward a bang of a finale that neatly wraps one of the film´s ridiculous running joke.
- Bob Byington
- Bob Byington
- David Krumholtz
- Martin Starr
- Olivia Thirlby