A judgmental dramedy that makes it all too easy to judge as lacking.
When A-listers assemble for a film that hardly seems viable on paper let alone delivering anything of worth on-screen, one has to wonder what the inside joke is. The paycheck couldn’t have been that enticing for an indie drama-comedy and with a first time director, Anna Mastro, and a cloying script adapted from a first-time short by Paul Shoulberg, there was certainly no real muscle enticing the likes of William H. Macy, Virginia Madsen, and sleeper-celebs Neve Campbell and Peter Facinelli. So while the actual logistics around a production of this sort elude me, the evidence of Walter’s thinly-lined plot, actively unfunny premise, and reaching sentimentality are abundant.
Walter is the tale of Walter (spoiler alert), an uptight young man (Andrew J. West) who lives an organized and calculated life as indicated by the three alarms he uses to wake up in the morning, his eyes popping open before they even begin to chime. His robot—I mean mother (Virginia Madsen)—leaves his freshly pressed shirt for him next to his door every morning and cooks him eggs for every meal, constantly bemoaning the dangers of starvation. As for his father, well, Walter is the son of God. Not THE son of God, that beardy one, just another son of God. And as such, Walter has been gifted with the ability to judge. (An ability I’d heretofore thought everyone possessed.) Walter’s judgements are simple: “heaven” or “hell.”
To supply him with a steady stream of people to judge, Walter works in the local multiplex tearing tickets. Joined by douche-bag Vince (Milo Ventimiglia), who pokes fun of Walter’s slightly Asperger-ish ways, and the beautiful—and clearly heaven-bound—Kendall (Leven Rambin) who works in concessions. Jim Gaffigan is sorely underutilized as their always-annoyed manager Corey. Not only does Walter busy himself tearing tickets and muttering eternal condemnation on his unsuspecting patrons, but he’s also the shy-movie-lover type, spending his breaks inside the theaters watching whatever is on. This particular trait leads to many a movie-reel style flashback wherein we learn Walter’s father (Peter Facinelli) died when he was young. A sad, broken, father-less introvert who lives a controlled life to the point of deciding the after-life fate of every stranger he sees sounds like the most open and close psych case out there.
And indeed, Walter does eventually find himself a therapist (William H. Macy) when his organized life is put into tail-spin by the appearance of someone new. Greg the Ghost (Justin Kirk). Not quite as friendly as Casper, but at least not decomposing, and stuck in a sort of limbo awaiting judgement for the past ten years. How he knows to track down Walter the Judger we don’t know, but Walter is none too pleased to be asked to pass judgement on someone already dead. Apparently his gift only works on the living. Greg won’t take no for an answer and as he drags Walter around showing him the life he left behind, strange connections to Walter’s own life start to become transparent.
From there the film quickly dissolves into a goopy mess, abandoning its comedic sensibilities altogether and attempting to insert heightened emotion with some long-winded dramatically-tense scenes between Walter and his mother, and Walter and his therapist. Unfortunately Walter is entirely too stiff to care much for by this point and his revelations align in cookie cutter patterns that are entirely too convenient. Everyone responds appropriately, right down to dream-girl-Kendall being open to all-new-Walter in that way that only scripted dream-girls can be.
Walter wishes it were quirky, a word I’ve come to despise and lesser indies seem to aspire to. But if “weird” is what Walter is going for, it doesn’t even reach that. Mostly it’s a strange concept, that actually falls into totally plausible categories and develops exactly the way you’d think. It’s unbalanced in its intent, failing to push hard enough with its comedy and pushing too hard with its drama. As a simple look into the world of a young man on the cusp—I’m not joking, they even use the same “Hero” song we’ve all grown to associate with Boyhood during one scene—it’s simply not moving, nor enlightening. If they’d thrown God into the mix, or even provided any sort of explanation for Walter’s gift and how it works, than the actual “weirdness” of the film might have been interesting, but alas these areas go entirely undeveloped.
Macy and Madsen are always on their game, but this game is about as fun to watch as solitaire. West (his most recent memorable role being leader of a cannibalistic tribe on The Walking Dead) is straight with his awkward and emotionally stunted character to the point of detachment, but I won’t place the blame entirely on his shoulders. It’s often the case when a short film is translated to feature-length that the filler ends up being more of what already existed, which only makes for too much of what was previously just enough. Walter is a stretched out short with some A-list talent but not enough sense to hold it afloat. Perhaps its time for indie comedies to stop aspiring to “quirky” and start aspiring to well-developed and less gimmicky.
Walter gets a limited theatrical release Friday, March 13.