To be fair, the sorta-raunchy rom-com “Someone Marry Barry” is shamelessly and unapologetically up front about how much it owes and rips off from the Judd Apatow oeuvre. And we’re not just talking about the four-bros-with-women-and-life-problems premise. Whether it’s nodding to the speed dating sequence from “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” or even the detail that the titular character lives off money he earned after falling into an open manhole (not unlike Seth Rogen‘s Ben from “Knocked Up” who received a settlement after his foot was run over by a mail truck), it’s clear writer/director Rob Pearlstein—Oscar nominated for his 2004 short “Our Time Is Up“—has spent some time watching a very selective batch of movies. And as we saw last month with “That Awkward Moment,” if you don’t understand what makes Apatow’s films work, the results can disastrous. And while “Someone Marry Barry” is missing some key ingredients, thank god for Tyler Labine and Lucy Punch, who display an enjoyable comic chemistry that deserves a much better movie.
But “Someone Marry Barry” is the one they got, and thanks to their presence, at least a good 45 minutes of the movie is tolerably above average. Faint praise to be sure, but after a fairly dire, unfunny and borderline implausible opening stretch that is mostly spent underscoring how completely socially inappropriate Barry is, you’ll take what you can get. Labine manages to bring the character, who threatens to come off as an asshole, to the right side of well-meaning goofball, though it’s understandable why his pals—Desmond (Damon Wayans Jr.), Rafe (Hayes MacArthur) and Kurt (Thomas Middleditch)—want to end their lifelong friendship with him. In the first ten minutes he manages to ruin the funeral of Rafe’s father, while getting Desmond fired from his ad agency job and causing Kurt’s girlfriend to dump him. Wanting to do right by their childhood buddy, while also getting him out of their hair, the trio strike upon the idea to find him a girlfriend who will have to deal with his crazy, unfiltered behaviour instead of them. But when their plan actually works, they’ll wish it hadn’t.
While the girls they set Barry up with don’t work out, including an attempt to buy him a mail order bride (a weird sequence saved by a nice turn from Brett Gelman as the broker), he winds up meeting Mel (played by Punch) at a restaurant where their respective dates have ditched them (and wind up leaving together too). And it’s a match made in foul-mouthed heaven. The pair, who believe no topic is off the table in conversations—Mel in particular is up front about her yeast infection (kinda nice to see a movie bring this up and it not being a big deal)—finally find in each other someone who understands them. And Labine and Punch share this connection with a dirty sweetness, with the duo really projecting the bond between their characters, that the script doesn’t really do. Pretty soon their love is wreaking havoc on the world around them, including Desmond, Rafe and Kurt, but when a weekend trip away ends in tragedy Barry will find himself abandoned by his exasperated friends, and taking it out on Mel who breaks up with him.
And this isn’t a spoiler because “Someone Marry Barry”—despite its affectations toward something bawdier (lots of f-bombs, but nothing close to anything resembling nudity or other provocative material in this unrated flick, though there is a scrotum)—follows the familiar, tired format of your average romantic comedy. The final act of the movie is your standard guy-loses-girl-and-must-do-one-last-big-gesture-to-win-her-back stuff, and it drags down the pace of this already brief 87-minute flick. And that’s mostly because it separates Labine and Punch, who are the spark plugs to the film. Everyone else is largely underwritten despite feeble attempts at backstories (Desmond is struggling to balance his work and home life; Rafe is a single Dad letting his son down), though the persistently undervalued Middleditch (who was also a hoot in the largely forgettable “Fun Size“) gets some good mileage as the awkward nerd of the group, who is being walked all over by a way out of his league girlfriend.
A mildly passable timewaster, if “Someone Marry Barry” serves any purpose, it’s to highlight that Labine is worthy of a bigger and better vehicle for his talent. While he superficially fits into the Jonah Hill/Josh Gad/Jack Black mold of larger comic performers whose stock in trade is lacking any boundaries, as he shows here, Labine can be both rude and real, while clearly able to elevate lesser material. He’s got untapped skill, and it makes you want to see what he can do with a halfway decent script. As for Punch, she’s already been on the precipice of blowing up after solid stints in fare like “Bad Teacher,” “You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger” and “A Good Old Fashioned Orgy” (which also co-starred Labine, and is a pretty underrated and very good sex comedy), but that big breakout showpiece part has remained elusive. But for now, “Someone Marry Barry” is a reasonably entertaining argument that good performers can enliven weak material, with the hope that these two stars have paid their dues, and will get more deserving parts in better movies soon. [C+]