Directed by: Phil Dorling and Ron Nyswaner
Premise: A piano prodigy (Jesse Eisenberg) attempts to deliver his mother (Melissa Leo) to a drug rehabilitation center so that he can audition for a spot in a prestigious music program but he and his mother get caught up in various misadventures.
What Works: The shortcomings of Why Stop Now? are not the fault of the actors as all the leads provide solid performances. The film has a credible family tension between the mother played by Melissa Leo, her son played by Jesse Eisenberg, and her daughter played by Emma Rayne Lyle. Whenever the film focuses on their relationship it does fairly well and if it had remained on them it might have been more successful.
What Doesn’t: Why Stop Now? plays like an imitation of Alexander Payne’s films like Sideways or Citizen Ruth. It has similar characters, treads on equivalent themes, and it has the same overall flavor. But co-writers and directors Phil Dorling and Ron Nyswaner are not Alexander Payne and Why Stop Now? is nowhere near as good as his films. One of the most egregious faults of Why Stop Now? is how incomplete its story is. There are a lot of subplots and supporting characters in this picture but none of them are done well. Sarah Ramos plays the love interest to Jesse Eisenberg’s character but what she sees in him is inexplicable and the two have no romantic spark between them. Melissa Leo’s character has a tense relationship with her sister, played by Stephanie March, but their relationship is also ill defined and comes to a resolution for no tangible reason. The preponderance of storylines is a product of the filmmaker’s attempt to create a frantic tone. The main character is given a deadline and the filmmakers intend that he race against the clock to make his appointment while confronting an every growing list of obstructions. But the filmmakers of Why Stop Now? fail to create the kind of fast paced tone that this story needs. Some of this is a fault of the set up. A ticking clock narrative needs to have a concrete goal that is established on the outset but Why Stop Now? does not bring up the audition until late in the film and does present it in a way that suggests urgency. This is indicative of another problem with Why Stop Now? and that is its cinematic failings. Scenes are often clumsily staged and shot with much of the action occurring in medium master shots that do not direct the viewer’s attention to anything interesting. The lighting and set design also conspire to minimize any tension as the entire film suffers from a sitcom-like blandness. That blandness extends out to the supporting characters who also have a television sitcom quality. The main character and his mother get mixed up in a drug deal, which ought to be frightening or at least tense, but the dealers are played by Tracy Morgan and Paul Calderon and neither of them possesses any menace. If this is intentional and the filmmakers are going for comedy over drama, they fail in that regard as well and there is very little in the film that is funny despite its often absurd content. The clashes in tone and faulty filmmaking result in a picture that never feels real and constantly snaps the viewer out of it.
Bottom Line: Why Stop Now? is a disappointing waste of talented performers. There are considerable acting talents involved but the movie is just too clumsily made.
Episode: #405 (September 16, 2012)