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Review: 'Somebody Up There Likes Me' hits the indie sweet spot

A satisfying mix of whimsy and cynicism, Bob Byington's quirky film follows two friends over the years.

March 14, 2013|By Mark Olsen
  • Keith Poulson stars in "Somebody Up There Likes Me."
Keith Poulson stars in "Somebody Up There Likes Me." (Tribeca Film )

Austin-based writer-director Bob Byington's "Somebody Up There Likes Me" is a difficult film to describe, but easily inspires a deep sense of affection and connection. Words such as offbeat, charming or, Lord help us, quirky are wildly overused and yet this is exactly the kind of film to which they best apply.

Covering some 35 years, with animated transitional sequences, the story follows Max Youngman (Keith Poulson) and his reluctant only friend Sal ("Parks and Recreation" costar Nick Offerman, also a producer) as they bicker through life, for a time over the affections of a woman named Lyla (Jess Weixler) and then a business.

In many ways, just as with Byington's previous "Harmony and Me," this film is what the whole indie-cinema adventure should be about: bold and singular, with a fully-formed sensibility all its own.

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Throughout, characters hand off a suitcase with seemingly magical, youth-restoring powers hidden inside. (Practically speaking, this allows the actors not to age even as the story covers decades.)

Weixler easily comes across as a woman worth fighting over, working an intersection between Winona Ryder winsome and silent cinema expressive. For their parts, Offerman and Poulson find a heretofore undiscovered sweet spot of whimsy and cynicism.

This is a story of everyday dramas — sex, marriage, death, friendship, ambition and the lack of it — told in a distinctive, lightly absurdist, slightly surreal style. The film has a sarcastic tone, like that of a friend who you never can tell is kidding or not, which eventually breaks through into a place of unexpected sincerity. Meeting this odd, idiosyncratic "Somebody" is a rare delight.

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'Somebody Up There Likes Me'

MPAA rating: No rating

Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes

Playing: At the Cinefamily, 611 N. Fairfax Ave, L.A.

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