The story of an aging man-child has been told and retold so many times that it has evolved into a kind of narrative ritual. Witness the phenomena of Seth Rogen and his ilk, a brand exclusively defined for their dopey charm in the face of adult responsibilities, or the series of stubborn lackadaisical men throughout Mike Judge’s oeuvre: The character type often works because he remains likable in spite of his archetypical trainwreck routine. Chris D’Arienzo’s “Barry Munday” runs this playful stereotype into the ground with its titular crude ladies’ man (Patrick Wilson), whose rough wake-up call arrives when he loses both testicles and looks beyond the bedroom to a more settled life. Thanks to Wilson’s gentle, unassuming performance, the character works well enough to generate a steady volume of pathos. The rest of the movie is a different story.
Like “Choke” as a sitcom, “Barry Munday” suffers from an ever-present lightness despite its vulgar nature, deflating the emotional value intrinsic to the plot. With its character’s dilemma fully in place — after the testicular accident, his work life grows unstable and naturally his sex life goes extinct — “Barry Munday” falls prey to a tepid plot device: A moody young woman (Judy Greer) shows up claiming that Barry fathered her child after a one-night stand. Unable to recollect the incident, Barry simply accepts it and attempts to leverage the accident into a means of injecting significance into his life.
D’Arienzo (adapting Frank Turner Hollon’s novel) delivers the usual routine with a few eccentric digressions (the intervention of a genital mutilation support group offers a few shallow laughs), but he simultaneously avoids giving Munday’s world more than the vaguest definition. The result often feels like an unfunny “Saturday Night Live” sketch in need of better gags. With no constant sense of reality, “Barry Munday” feels like a shallow comedy dressed as something far quirkier.
Much of the problems with “Barry Munday” come from its repeatedly uninspiring screenplay, which contains a constant barrage of personal gripes (“I once had options. My balls were great. I was great”) and directionless vulgarity (“My tits feel like they’re two Ziploc bags full of oatmeal,” says the mother of his child) that lacks enough ingenuity to give momentum to the lightness. But the real precedent for the plot of “Barry Munday” harkens back to Preston Sturges’s classic 1944 comedy “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek,” in which a virtuous young man takes on responsibility for the pregnancy of a woman knocked up by another anonymous soldier. Parenthood offers an easy route for the coming-of-age story, even when it involves older men, and “Barry Munday” occasionally manages to create a gently bittersweet vibe due to this decisive blend. But an appreciable tone and the considerable efforts on Wilson’s part to make Barry come alive simply fail to compensate for the greater lack of competence needed to excuse the shoddy, half-baked plot. The movie’s forgettable qualities set it up for a put-down on its own lame terms: “Barry” is mundane.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This review was originally published as part of indieWIRE’s coverage of the SXSW Film Festival.