A little quirkiness can go a long way. Too much of it and dialogue can begin to sound overtly written, crafted for maximum zing rather than something more natural. Bruce Dellis's Raising Buchanan has plenty of quirk and it sometimes gets in the way of connecting with the characters because few people can talk casually with such specific wit.
The film kicks off with a creative premise. Ruth (Amanda Melby) is a struggling cellist who is quick to anger and not great with life choices. She is on probation and working in a donut shop and as a rent-for-hire cellist for a avant-garde ventriloquist. She regularly lies to people, most of all her father whom she has created an elaborate lie of her life for. That lie includes renting an acquaintances baby to pass as her own. Her life is a mess but she sees a way out of it, kidnap the body of President James Buchanan and hold it for ransom. What could go wrong?
Well for one thing, Buchanan (Rene Auberjonois) keeps appearing to her. Another problem is that no one respects Buchanan, often referred to in the film as America's worst president. This makes it hard to extort anyone for the return of his remains. Ruth enlists her roommate Meg (Cathy Shim) to help her but it soon becomes clear that Ruth is stuck with Buchanan.
For all of the attempts to be clever, Raising Buchanan can't seem to generate much of a plot. The running joke that drives the film is that no one cares about Buchanan. I doubt anyone needs a movie to point this out but the film positions much of its story around this, resulting in a lack of suspense. The quirky dialogue often feels like it is pushing a false whimsy and charm. It damages the emotional power the story may have had by making characters sound like the writer and not real people.
For all its faults, the film does have Melby. Her performance makes Ruth into someone you want to root for. It is too bad that so many things that surround it diminish her talents. Raising Buchanan won the Audience Award at the Phoenix Film Festival and perhaps with the right crowd, the jokes and dialogue would land better.