8.1

Joshy

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<i>Joshy</i>

In the movies, when a bunch of bros meet up at a vacation house for some R&R, it usually results in a weekend blast of bacchanalia or somebody getting killed. Or both. Thankfully, Joshy isn’t like most movies. Yes, it has the trappings of a buddy hangout film, but it’s far more mature than the genre it leans on, and more entertaining, too. With five main characters, a host of cameos and a precipitous balance between comedy and darkness, Joshy gets a lot done, and does it very well.

Writer-director Jeff Baena doesn’t have us thinking about partying at first. The title character (Silicon Valley’s Thomas Middleditch) arrives home to his fiancée, unaware that by night’s end their relationship will meet its harsh, abrupt end. Months later, with the deposit to their Ojai bachelor party house in the balance, Joshy invites his pals to get together anyway. Only three show up, and they’re a study in contrasts: Ari (Adam Pally) is a stoner who’s married with a new baby, Adam (Alex Ross Perry) is a hesitant nerd, and Eric (Nick Kroll) is an overconfident, overly outspoken partier.

Where’s this going? Nowhere you’d expect. Baena works in small, sincere degrees, avoiding most typical guy conversation without pushing the quirkiness that’s annoyingly prevalent in talky hangout movies. It helps that he has a group of actors who understand that finely tuned humor comes with a level of closely connected pathos.

Pally is the film’s standout as the de facto head of the household, a guy who’s probably Joshy’s best friend, though Baena is too smart to have the script come out and say it. Pally exudes empathy, calm and a complexity of issues, and his scenes with Jenny Slate as his weekend crush overflow with warmth and reality—further proof that naturally comic actors are some of the best actors around.

For his part, Middleditch does a fine job ditching the tweaks and twitches of his TV role to fill out a guy who’s in real pain. Most viewers know him only as Richard on Silicon Valley, but he packs that character away for the most part, despite Baena limiting Middleditch’s dialogue until it really counts.

How do guys express their love for one another in the movies during this era of ill-defined masculinity and bro culture? Instead of I Love You, Man, Baena and cast opt for I Like and Respect What You’re Into, Dude, an evolution that young actors and cinema could certainly use. Perry’s embarrassing pleas to play a complicated, dorky board game aren’t shunned—they’re just addressed carefully by the crew so game time can happen without cutting into party time, and it’s an action that doesn’t feel artificial. It’s good to witness friends who prop each other up without grand gestures of fist-bumping bro-motion.

Fans and followers of independent film will have fun with the long roster of actors milling about the movie, most notably Baena’s longtime squeeze, Aubrey Plaza, and even the whole darned Swanberg family. (Side note: It’s nearly impossible not to make comparisons to Swanberg’s failed Digging for Fire, another home hangout movie filled with indie actors, but totally lacking the structure and honesty of Joshy.)

Sure, there’s drinking and drugs and silliness in Joshy, but they’re rarely the focal point of the action. They’re a natural part of the environment, which makes sense once you’re in your thirties and dealing with the realities of life. For as much as I enjoy a good Seth Rogen pukefest, it doesn’t have to be the cinematic blueprint of what it means to hang with the guys.

Director: Jeff Baena
Writer: Jeff Baena
Starring: Thomas Middleditch, Adam Pally, Alex Ross Perry, Nick Kroll, Brett Gelman, Jenny Slate, Lauren Graham, Aubrey Plaza, Joe Swanberg 
Release Date: August 12, 2016

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