The personal and professional crossroads of a father and son, and producer and artist, intersect in “Len And Company,” which aims to explore those moments in life when we don’t know what to do next from a couple of different generational viewpoints. And yet, for all the rock ‘n roll swagger the picture brings in its central character, the dramedy plays a fairly traditional cinematic standard, doesn’t bring much original flavor, and let’s it go on far too long in one register.
The story orbits around Len Black (Rhys Ifans), a legendary, hard living musician and producer who, to borrow a description of Keith Richards from “Wayne’s World 2,” likely cannot be killed by conventional weapons. His face is etched with years of self-centered drug and alcohol-fueled mythmaking, but it has lost him his wife Isabelle (Kathryn Hahn), and made him something of a stranger to his college-age son Max (Jack Kilmer). But even worse, Black is burned out. The mojo for music is gone, and so he’s retreated to his home in upstate New York to be alone with his thoughts, listen to books-on-tape, and watch DVDs of old British TV shows like “The Sweeney” and “Blackadder.”
However, his plan for contemplative isolation doesn’t get too far. Max soon shows up on his doorstep, looking to check in with this father, who has somewhat gone off the grid. Not far behind is Zoe (Juno Temple), whose album Len produced has been an award-winning success. Instead of tasting and enjoying the spoils of fame, it’s her very image that’s gnawing away at her sense of self-esteem. However, both have ulterior motives for dropping in on Max, who is not particularly overjoyed to see them. Max wants his Dad’s opinion on his band’s demo, while Zoe is just looking to be cared for by someone who understands her.
Based on the play “Len, Asleep In The Vinyl,” the adaptation by director Tim Godsall and Katherine Knight doesn’t do much to open up the story outside of Len’s modestly fancy digs, and it’s an issue when only one of the three characters who occupy that space is genuinely compelling. Ifans makes the most of playing an opinionated asshole, who has long stopped caring about what most people think of him. Of course, this creates much of the conflict in the film, but the actor (and with all due cred, the script as well) finds that perfect measure in which his prickly nature has an undercurrent of warmth and humor, and it’s understandable why Jack and Zoe put up with his streaks of meanness to be around him, beyond their own needs. More importantly, it makes the audience want to stick with Len as well, and it’s a feat that should not go underappreciated, as its a tricky balance to strike.
Unfortunately, neither Jack or Zoe carry that same three dimensional weight. The former is described by Len as the equivalent of Diet Dr. Pepper — safe, edgeless, nice. And he’s not wrong. Len thinks his son, raised in privilege, doesn’t have the right stuff to to be an authentic rock ‘n roller, and the movie doesn’t make much of a case for Jack otherwise, even though our sympathies are supposed to be with the young man who has dropped out of school to chase his dream. Meanwhile, Temple is saddled with the troubled-young-woman role she’s played far too often, and her role as a damaged star has all the nuance on the page of a TMZ headline.
Narratively, the film offers little in the way of surprise as we amble along with Jack and Zoe, as they work up the courage to confront Len and break him out of the protective shell he’s crawled into that is inadvertently hurting those around him. Meanwhile, attempting to add some color is William (Keir Gilchrist), a local teenager who stops by Len’s place almost daily to do oddball tasks like set up raccoon traps or create way stations for monarch butterflies. It’s a quirk that feels forced upon this story to give it weight and perhaps more substance, but it’s only diverting instead of amusing. That said, if the character is worth anything, it’s for giving Ifans the single best scene of the entire film, when he goes to William’s school to talk about his experience in the music industry. The hilarious, profanity laden speech is a terrific standout, with Ifans hitting every note perfectly, while also finding the layers beneath that make us understand why Len ticks. However, the moment winds up feeling like a band playing their best song with the most gusto in the middle of the set, and it makes the rest of the picture that much more lifeless by comparison.
“Len And Company” is a picture of low stakes and little consequence, and thus must rely on being anchored by some kind of insight or values it wants to share. But there, too, the film is equally unremarkable, with nothing much to say about the various stages of life it finds its characters in. When Isabelle arrives late in the movie, Len immediately puts his guard down, and a lovely little walk and talk sequence between veterans Ifans and Hahn makes you wish we had more interaction between them through the rest of the movie. The skilled players do much to add the kind of texture that “Len And Company” desperately needs, but is largely ill equipped to deliver.
According to Len, rock ‘n roll is “blood, bourbon, and napalm,” and it’s exactly those elements that the film needs, but doesn’t provide. “Len And Company” is not a song that’s out of tune, so much as one that’s forgettable. Len’s journey back into the light should be made of harder stuff — a cocktail of those aforementioned ingredients — but instead it goes down as easily, lightly, and predictably as diet cola, with just as many calories. [C-]