Rock n’ roll certainly has its charms — the booze, the drugs, the women, the leather pants — but once the shine wears off, so does the satisfaction. That’s exactly what’s happened to Len (Rhys Ifans), a famous rocker turned record producer who has turned his leather pants-clad back on the world that made him, choosing to retreat to his fancy home in upstate in New York and quite literally unplug. That doesn’t last too long.
In Tim Godsall’s “Len and Company,” Len’s already deep into his new isolation by the time its upended by some pretty ticked off members of his extended family. For all his claims that he wants to disengage with the world — this is a guy who lets his car battery die so he can’t drive anywhere, and buries his cords and cables in the woods so that he can’t record any music — Len can’t avoid being inundated with actual youth, and his house is soon populated with the various children (actual or not) that he’s somehow charmed and then disappointed. (At one point, Len flips off a crow who dares caw at him. He’s that kind of guy.)
Chief among Len’s intruders is his son Max (Jack Kilmer), who shows up for a visit unannounced and, despite early claims to the contrary, has come to see Len for a very specific reason. Kilmer, who previously made waves in his debut role in Gia Coppola’s 2013 “Palo Alto,” is also very strong here, possessing a natural ease and believability in front of the camera that’s hard to fake. Then there’s Len’s awkward neighbor William (Keir Gilchrist), who pops up at odd hours to complete even odder tasks, like trapping errant raccoons and looking at Len as some kind of father figure. The tension between William and Max is apparent and obvious, but it’s never overplayed.
Finally, there’s Zoe (Juno Temple), Len’s greatest achievement, a pop star in the vein of Katy Perry or Britney Spears who has remained on top despite Len’s very recent abandoning of her and the industry as a whole. Temple plays it purposely flat during her first appearance on screen, a riotously bad interview with a reporter doing his damnedest to get the pop tartlet to say anything of value. It’s during that interview that it seems to dawn on Zoe that maybe something really is going on with Len, and maybe it’s something worth investigating.
Godsall and co-screenwriter Katharine Knight don’t spoon-feed information to their audience, and while it’s clear that something bad happened with Len to make him leave the music biz (something that impacted Zoe in a major way), it’s never played up for extra drama and they don’t try to sell it as some major mystery. It’s a piece of the puzzle, but it isn’t oversold in service to drama.
That, however, might be a misstep, because “Len and Company” mostly lacks for drama, and is forced to instead resort to quirk and zaniness to make up for the slack in tension. Mostly, “Len and Company” is a character-driven dramedy that revels in pushing dueling characters together and seeing what happens. As it applies to both Ifans and Temple, it’s mostly entertaining, with Ifans giving an unexpectedly tough edge to Len (this isn’t a film about a guy who has a secret soft center, but it’s also not a film about an unrepentant bastard, the truth falls in the middle) and Temple turning in some of her best work yet, show-stealing stuff that allows the TIFF regular to exhibit pain and lightness in equal, engaging measure.
Despite a rollicking first act, one kitted out with a series of colorful and actually interesting characters, the film falls flat as it winds up to its conclusion, suddenly becoming lackadaisical and listless, spending through most of its early goodwill and charm. Although Godsall and Knight don’t go in for cheap and tidy character arcs, they don’t seem to know what to do with all of their characters once they’re shoved together (the momentum is further stalled by the unearned appearance of Max’s mom, played by a viciously underused Kathryn Hahn), eventually giving itself over to goofy plot machinations and undercooked twists. It rocks, and then it just rolls right downhill.
“Len and Company” made its North American premiere this week at the Toronto International Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.