Over the years, it’s been both disconcerting and somehow satisfying to watch Matthew Broderick gradually morph from a lithe, cocky teen heartthrob to a pudgy, middle-aged sad sack. The puppy-dog eyes have sunken deeper into down-turned crevices of disappointment, and he seems lost in his burly torso, often vacuum-packed into tucked shirts and constricting ties. Broderick’s onscreen persona has come to embody early forties despair, when fading youth has given way to ambivalence about the future; this seems to have been a long, slow journey, which began somewhere around Alexander Payne’s superlative Election.
In that endlessly rewatchable satire, Broderick was something of a revelation, maintaining his air of superiority, but this time it was cloaked behind layers of self-deception, neuroses, and suburban despondency. Payne brought out an exacting, painfully observed performance from the actor, and ever since it seems like Broderick’s been doing milquetoast variations on it, with ever diminishing returns, from his likeable doofus boss in You Can Count on Me to his nebbishy nothings in The Stepford Wives and The Producers.
Now, as Taylor Peters, an atrociously named TV comedy writer with a crippling gambling problem, in Peter Tolan’s Finding Amanda, Broderick puts on his best deluded-dork outfit and wanders precariously close to Chevy Chase territory. This time however, he doesn’t have Reese Witherspoon as a formidable opponent, and he’s stuck playing opposite a plucky but uncharitably used Brittany Snow as his wife’s troubled niece, Amanda, who he’s supposed to track down in Las Vegas and save from a life of prostitution and drugs.