Joshy | Jeff Baena | USA | 2016 | 93 minutes
Hulu | Amazon Video | Google Play | Vudu
Chris Lay admires the impressive cast assembled by director Jeff Baena for his independent comedy, Joshy, a film that asks the question: Can you work through the five stages of grief at your bachelor party?
Here’s a movie that somehow managed to wrangle the comedy star power of Thomas Middleditch, Adam Pally, Nick Kroll, Jenny Slate, Aubrey Plaza, Alison Brie, and Brett Gelman into one little low budget film, and somehow it ends up getting next to no distribution, eventually more or less creeping out on Hulu?
Normally this would be a big red flag alerting any discerning filmgoer to the likelihood that someone was trying to bury a real stinker. While Joshy never quite lives up to the potential of its lengthy marquee, it was overall a solid little flick that benefits from apparently having been made entirely on the back of Jeff Baena (Life After Beth) cashing in every favor ever owed to him by the whole of the Upright Citizens Brigade.
Middleditch is the titular Josh(y), who is on track to marry his fiancee, played by Brie. Before the opening credits are over he has found her unexpectedly (and unceremoniously) hanged with his belt on his birthday. Her reasons for hanging herself remain unknown. Josh’s pals had a whole bachelor party weekend planned in a remote Ohai cabin and, since it’s too late to get the deposit back, the dedicated core of now-thwarted groomsmen show up to try and turn the weekend into an opportunity to support their bereaved buddy. But, to a man, it turns out that they’re all nursing emotional traumas of their own.
Bachelor parties, from my experience, are already a richly supportive affair, but it’s harder than you might think to shift that celebratory brand of emotionally raw outpouring into one that is more geared to help someone get over a loss. The language that the two events use as a means to an end are completely different and there’s going to be some dissonance in the transition.
That of course doesn’t stop overeager Eric, played by Kroll, from bringing drugs and strippers to what should ostensibly be one big agape hug-fest. On the other end of the spectrum is Adam, played by veteran mumblecore actor and director Alex Ross Perry, who wants nothing more than for everyone to settle in and play the wildly complex cooperative board game Mecha Dungeon Crawl. Pally is the closest thing to a moderate voice of reason of the bunch, but even he, a recent father, has got troubles of his own when he meets a charming woman at the bar near the cabin, played by Slate, who tests what’s left of the faith he has in his relationship. Gelman is the awkward friend of a friend that every bachelor party seems to attract, too many degrees removed from the source to immediately connect, and here his overcompensation only matches in his compulsive neediness. Once the players are assembled, the tensions ratchet up with a predictable efficiently towards an inevitable crescendo.
While there’s no denying that every role has been cast with pitch perfect precision, there’s something almost flagrant in the use of some big ticket actors on the fringes. For seemingly no reason at all, Gilmore Girl Lauren Graham shows up for a split second in a completely inconsequential role, and even Paul Reiser gets in on the action late in the film chewing up some scenery as the father of Josh’s former fiancee. They’re both great in their momentary roles but, to be honest, adding them to a cast that’s already this stacked feels like Baena casually flaunting his rolodex in the face of every other aspiring filmmaker.
Oh, and the score? All new music from Devendra Barnhart.
For a movie that I had been hearing mentions of on various podcasts for what feels like over a year now (seemingly the extent of the marketing deployed here) Joshy more than lives up to its modest rollout. Sure, the narrative framework that holds everything up is shaky at times, but the magnetism of the main cast fills in the gaps and holds everything together, with a few laugh out loud screwball moments scattered throughout. Man-babies behave badly, and while there are scant few repercussions for their indiscretions there’s a subtle weight that’s felt in the fact that none of them really experience significant growth past the various crossroads of maturity that they find themselves at as individuals.
Check out the other Missed Madison Film Festival reviews for Tuesday, January 24: