Review: ‘There There,’ starring Jason Schwartzman, Lili Taylor, Lennie James, Molly Gordon, Annie La Ganga and Avi Nash

March 4, 2023

by Carla Hay

Jason Schwartzman in “There There” (Photo by Matthias Grunsky/Magnolia Pictures)

“There There”

Directed by Andrew Bujalski

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the comedy/drama “There There” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with one black person) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Various people express insecurities and have conflicts with each other.

Culture Audience: “There There” will appeal primarily to people who like pretentious and rambling independent films that are boring and have nothing meaningful to say.

Lili Taylor in “There There” (Photo by Matthias Grunsky/Magnolia Pictures)

“There There” should have been titled “Nothing There,” in case people are looking for a movie with a coherent plot or interesting characters. It’s one of those tedious independent films that tries to fool people into thinking that its shallow idiocy is cool. This annoying movie is so pretentious, “There There” writer/director Andrew Bujalski didn’t even bother giving the movie’s characters any names, except for two characters who are never shown on screen. But that’s not the only reason why viewers won’t care about these characters.

“There There” just looks like a series of improvisational sketches with no purpose. It’s just a bunch of actors talking to each other in scenes that go nowhere. Some of the characters are strangers to each other but are connected because someone they know is a mutual friend or mutual acquaintance. “There There” is supposed to be a comedy/drama, but there’s nothing funny about the comedy, and there’s nothing compelling about the drama.

The movie has four different scenarios that show the tenuous connection between some of the characters. Each scenario transitions to the next by showing musician Jon Natchez playing a different instrument. He’s shown playing a bass clarinet, a piano and a guitar in these musical interludes.

The first scenario shows two unmarried people in their 50s (played by Lili Taylor and Lennie James) waking up after he has spent the night at her place for the first time. The two new lovers have a very awkward morning-after conversation. She tells him that she doesn’t want him to see her get dressed in the daylight because she’s very self-conscious about her body.

She also mentions that she’s probably older than his average sexual conquest. He assures her that he thinks she’s attractive, and they make plans to see each other again. During the conversation, it’s mentioned that he works as a bartender at a restaurant/bar that he owns, which is why he meets a lot of younger women. This restuarant/bar owner has no shortage of self-confidence. “Instead of a hangover, I feel like Superman,” he says.

He also mentions a gruesome incident he saw the previous year, where a young woman got into a car accident in front of his restaurant. The car was so damaged, the fire department had to extract the woman from the car. What does this car accident have to do with anything? It’s explained later in the movie, but the reveal is very predictable as soon as this bar owner’s recent sex partner mentions that she’s grieving over the death of her friend Allison.

The next scenario shows the woman talking about her new “romance” with a close friend (played by Annie La Ganga) who’s about the same age. This friend listens patiently and then goes to the high school attended by her 16-year-old son Gino, who is never seen in the movie. This mother is at the school to meet with a teacher (played by Molly Gordon), who says that Gino is “definitely on track for his grade level.” The teacher mentions that Gino has only had minor problems, such as pizza stains on his homework.

The conversation turns ugly though when Gino’s mother and the teacher get into a heated argument over a video that Gino secretly recorded in the teacher’s classroom. It’s enough to say that Gino’s mother wants to use this video against the teacher, but the teacher thinks Gino is the one who should get in trouble for how he recorded the video, because part of it was filmed up the teacher’s skirt.

The third scenario shows a tense phone conversation between a website owner (played by Avi Nash) and his attorney (played by Jason Schwartzman), because the website (which allows people to upload videos) is getting into legal trouble because of the website’s uploaded content. The attorney is separated from his wife Christine and is having nightmares about his dead father (played by Roy Nathanson), who shows up in another nightmarish vision in the attorney’s bedroom. As the room starts to shake, the attorney asks, “Is this an earthquake? Am I being raptured?”

The last scenario shows the website owner walking into a restaurant/bar. And what a coincidence: It’s the same bar owned by the guy who was shown in the “morning after” scene, and he’s working as a bartender on this particular night. Gino’s schoolteacher happens to be at the same bar too. The website owner shows he’s attracted to her while they sit at the bar counter, but she’s not interested. She’s more interested in the bartender.

“There There” squanders the talent of the cast members in these pointless scenes. The screenwriting is so bad, there’s nothing that can be salvaged from this rambling movie. Gordon gives the best effort to make her character watchable, but the rest of the cast members look bored and are just going through the motions.

“There There” is one of those time-wasting movies where viewers (if they have the patience to watch this dreadfully dull garbage) will say to themselves when it’s all over: “That’s it?” Unfortunately, the answer is: “Yes, you just watched 94 minutes of the cinematic equivalent of stale air that has the stink of foul pretentiousness.”

Magnolia Pictures released “There There” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on November 18, 2022.

Copyright 2017-2024 Culture Mix