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Review: Bernard and Huey

There is a nostalgic quality to Dan Mirvish's Bernard and Huey. This is thanks to the long-shelved screenplay from cartoonist and playwright Jules Feiffer. Feiffer, best known for Carnal Knowledge, had first created these characters for comic strips that appeared in Playboy. The film is also shot on Super 16mm film. These elements make the film feel like some unearthed 1970s artifact.

The film centers on two deeply unhappy, misogynists. Bernard (Jim Rash) is a historical nonfiction book editor who at 49 is trying to make up for a youth spend watching his pal Huey (David Koechner) bed woman after woman. He seems to be in competition with himself, stuck in a holding pattern. A detail in the screenplay provides a nice summary of Bernard's state, he moved into his apartment five years ago and doesn't have any furniture. He tells himself that tomorrow will be the day he finally does something with his place. 

When Huey shows up unannounced after 25 years, the two men begin to influence each other. Huey is trying to escape the confrontation that his family has dissolved due to his actions. His daughter Zelda (Mae Whitman) hates him for leaving but refuses to let her dad get off the hook by running away. She forces her way into his life and begins dating Bernard. Huey retaliates and starts seeing Bernard's therapist girlfriend Roz (Sasha Alexander). The two men fall back into their old dynamic but also start to affect each other, ever so slightly moving them out of their holding patterns.

Koechner and Rash are convincing as friends who were once close and yet time has separated them. Koechner has played obnoxious characters before, think Anchorman, but here finds a nuance to that type that he hasn't shown before, imbuing Huey with a depth of sadness. Rash embodies the neurotic bookishness of Bernard both in physical traits and in his performance.  Both are playing miserable people but manage to make their insufferable natures tolerable and even funny. The supporting performances from Whitman and Alexander are also good. 

Mirvish is a talented director, able to get consistent performances from the entire cast. The film may not have a strong visual style but it does feature rich acting. The screenplay feels dated like it is still stuck in a 70's point of view of sexist men as people worth spending time with. There is an undercurrent in the dialogue that may cause audiences to lose patience with the misogynists on screen. However, the performances are rich enough to keep with the film. 



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