Mr. Roosevelt February 13, 2018
1 Hr., 31 Mins.
egardless of if you’re doing well, few things are more anxiety-inducing than when someone asks you just exactly what you’re doing with your life. Most of the time, such an inquiry isn’t delivered with intentional malice — people are just trying to make small conversation, and genuinely want to know what you’re up to. But I’m certain I’m not the only one who’s been overcome with pretty unshakable fear whenever such a question is posed. What am I doing?, you might ask yourself.
First you attempt to deliver your answer — which will probably involve
your latest job or some cool thing you did that maybe kinda resembles one — in a way that suggests you’re content. Don’t worry about me!, the response inherently says. Then you briefly fret over what this person’s reaction’s going to be. Are they going to think I’m well-adjusted? Or does this person think I’m aimless? Do they believe my current ambitions are ones which cannot last, and that someone’s going have to break it to me sooner or later? The approval of another can potently affect us, enforcing either temporary or long-lasting self-reflection depending on your levels of self-confidence.
After watching Mr. Roosevelt (2017), comedienne Noël Wells’ writing and directing debut, evident is that this underlying desire for approval drives its maker, too. Over and over again in the film does its heroine display a fundamental need to show people that she’s doing *great*. But the twist here is that she isn’t. The disapproval on the faces of everyone who greets her with a raised eyebrow is just another reminder that maybe it’s time to make some changes.
In the film, Wells also stars as Emily Martin, an aspiring comedienne whose attempts to find stardom in Los Angeles have proven fruitless. Though she’s gained some traction online — she’s released a couple buzzy YouTube vids that more or less went viral — her life mostly consists of botched auditions and thankless gigs in commercials. At this point, she thought she’d be at least working her way up the Hollywood ladder. But nothing’s happened. To most, she’s just the girl who got 10 million views on a video wherein she bathed in spaghetti to the tunes of Michael Jackson.
She’d rather not dwell upon her plateau of a life. But then she receives word from her ex-boyfriend Eric (Nick Thune) that the cat they raised together some years ago is on the verge of death. This shakes her existential bottle, and so she packs up her bags and heads down to her native Austin, Texas to be by her old kitty’s side.
The feline dies just a couple hours after she gets into town. Rather than head right back to her bummer of a life, though, Emily decides to stay in the area. She awkwardly shacks up with Eric and his new live-in girlfriend Celeste (Britt Lower) (who’s essentially a human Pinterest board with a Yankee Candle fetish and an ability to get almost 300 Facebook likes with the snap of a French-tipped finger) and tries catching up with old friends. All the while does she pretend not to be jealous of Eric’s new life, or made smaller by the apparent fulfillment of everyone around her.
Inevitably, Emily’s increasingly depressive sojourn becomes a catalyst for reevaluation. By the end of the trip, she might even consider herself renewed, and maybe not in ways all too complementary toward her L.A. life.
The semi-autobiographical arc Emily’s subjected to here is something akin to one seen in a coming-of-age story, except the protagonist’s not a gangly 15-year-old but rather a freewheeling 20-something-year-old who really needs to figure out just what the fuck she’s going to do with the rest of her life.
Luckily Wells doesn’t outrightly announce that Emily needs to pick a new career and life mission per se: she just slyly says that the only way her heroine’s going to be successful is if she stops fooling around and really puts her best foot forward. Betters her content, approaches new professional scenarios with intensity not found in her peers. In Mr. Roosevelt, we see this likable femme finally get an understanding of who she is, and the results are funny, tender when appropriate.
Sometimes it falters, and that’s mostly because Wells is still coming into her own as a writer and director. Many of the jokes don’t exactly land, and dramatic showdowns aplenty are vaguely redundant of an overeager acting class’s production of Toni Erdmann (2016). So the film is often derailed by a sense of amateurism that might’ve been skirted had it been put together by an ultra-confident impresario rather than a novice. Or if the movie itself unfolded like life rather than a comedienne’s offbeat recreation of it.
But Wells has a distinct voice that’ll get her far. True, she’s had a couple false starts (the biggest being a botched run on Saturday Night Live a few years ago). But Mr. Roosevelt laughs in the face of any doubts: what we have in Wells is a unique, bitingly observant comedy fiend who’ll likely get even better with more experience. Treat her like more than a memorable special guest star on Master of None (2015-present). B