‘Entanglement’ is a tricky movie to write about. Broken down into the spoiler-free synopsis required for internet times, it sounds like whimsical hogwash arriving well over a decade too late to avoid complaints of cliché. However, director Jason James and his screenwriter Jason Filiatrault know that even more than you. They deliberately carve out a false path to comment on the very type of movie they seem to be making.
It’s a clever trick. The trouble is that those who like the trick will likely never see the movie because of the setup, and those who won’t will be trapped watching their comfort food turn to poison.
The charming human cringe known as Thomas Middleditch stars as Ben, a recent divorcee recovering from a suicide attempt resulting from that failed marriage. He’s one of those deadpan sad sacks in need of whimsical salvation that we recognize from so many movies of this sort. He has an eccentric artist neighbor (Diana Bang) who’s clearly in love with him and perfect for him, but his sadness won’t let him see that. Instead, he spends his days talking to himself in the mirror and trying to untangle his mess of a life. Then he learns that he might have a long-lost adopted sister and seeks her out. What he finds is an impossibly charming, strange, and peppy woman (Jess Weixler) who is the exact sort of impossible fantasy girl in all of these films (manic, pixie, etc.). That’ll surely work out, right?
‘Entanglement’ is very much the sort of post-Wes Anderson indie that did well at Sundance and beyond during the 2000s – movies like ‘Garden State’ and ‘Little Miss Sunshine’. It’s pretty to look at and constantly suggests that it’s about deep human themes, but it’s really just a whimsical rom-com in disguise. You saw and dismissed at least a dozen of these movies a decade ago. Admittedly, Thomas Middleditch is the exact sort of actor who would have starred in them back in the heyday. He’s funny and awkward and can do that dead-eyed stare thing that suggests depth and darkness without actually reaching for either one. He’s quite good in the movie, which is a big plus because everyone else is either obnoxious or blank. It’s hard to know whether to blame the actors or the script for that, but it’s a problem.
Director Jason James puts the film together with pleasingly slick aesthetics. The thing looks and feels right. It barrels toward a big twist that’s tough to discuss even though it kind of defines the movie and explains why Middleditch got involved. There’s a clever idea that has a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too quality for the type of tired cliché it’s selling. However, the movie really only has that one surprise.
‘Entanglement’ likely would have worked best as a short film where it could live entirely off the twist without wasting so much time deliberately setting up a crappy movie only to pull the rug out from viewers. As a feature, it’s a bit of a slog to get to the one good idea that justifies the whole creaky machine. An hour could easily be cut out of this flick without losing anything worthwhile. If nothing else, at least it’s a clever spin on a tiresome trope. That’s better than just serving up the reheated trope yet again, I suppose.