Middle of the Map Coverage Continues with ‘Somebody Up There Likes Me’

by Trey Hock on May 4, 2013

in Print Reviews,Reviews

There are certain songs that just sound better on a crappy stereo. The lo-fi production and raw emotion that comes with creative experimentation works with the energy of busted speakers and crackle of bad reception. It is as if you are picking up a transmission from some genius aliens in a nearby star system.

Some films work this way too, and Bob Byington’s Somebody Up There Likes Me is just such a movie.

Focusing on an emotionally stoic and sexually unfaithful foursome, and one magically restorative hard shell suitcase, Byington’s 76-minute episodic narrative would not have the impact or charm had the budget been ten million dollars. In the confines of low budget independent film, Somebody Up There Likes Me is refreshing and poignant.

When Max’ (Keith Poulson) father dies, he inherits a mysterious suitcase, given to him by his emotionally distant ex-wife (Kate Lyn Sheil). From here Max befriends coworker Sal (Nick Offerman), gets involved with and marries coworker Lyla (Jess Weixler), has a child, gets involved with the nanny (Stephanie Hunt), gets cuckolded by Lyla with Sal, divorces Lyla, and starts an incredibly profitable food chain with Sal.

A lot happens and the entire narrative is punctuated by title sequences that tell the viewer we are now jumping five years into the future. These work in two ways. First they break up Max’ life into short episodes, and second it illustrates life’s long periods of inactivity, which are interrupted by these explosive bursts of turmoil.

Bob Byington’s directing style is similar to Hal Hartley when it comes to his actors. The emotions are compressed out of the characters until they appear grey and stoic. Though this may sound off putting, the lack of on-screen emotions, forces the viewer to emote. It is the emotional equivalent to yelling at the screen as the teen descends the unlit stairs in to the monster/witch/ghost-infested basement of some schlocky horror film.

Nick Offerman is well cast since he can do a huge amount within this limited emotional spectrum as he has so adeptly shown us in Parks and Recreation, and films such as Smashed or 21 Jump Street. Bob Byington and Nick Offerman have been collaborators on two previous films as has Keith Poulson, and the familiarity shows in the ease of many of the scenes between these main characters.

If you want a film that is approachable yet experiments with the tenants of narrative feature film, then you will enjoy Somebody Up There Likes Me.

Check out the full calendar of events at Middle of the Map Film Fest for show times and other great films showing this weekend.

In addition to contributing to Scene-Stealers, Trey makes short films and teaches at the Kansas City Art Institute. Follow him here:

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