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The Baxter (2005)

DVD Cover (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)
Genres:
Comedy, Romantic Comedy, Screwball Comedy
Director:
Michael Showalter Michael Showalter
Starring:
Michael Showalter Michael Showalter
Elizabeth Banks Elizabeth Banks
Michelle Williams Michelle Williams
Justin Theroux Justin Theroux
Zak Orth Zak Orth

6.6 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by bluemeanie
Added: October 09, 2005
What is a baxter? A baxter is 'the other guy' -- you know, the one who it left at the alter while his former love runs off with the guy she was truly suppose to be with. We see them all of the time in old romance movies. A baxter is a guy who is good enough for everyone, but not right for anyone. He is destined to always be with someone, but destined to be alone forever. "The Baxter" was written and directed by Michael Showalter, one of the geniuses behind such television hilarity as "The State" and "Stella". Along with partners Michael Ian Black and David Wain, the trio have formed somewhat of a beloved comedy team. You would be surprised at how huge their fan base is. Showalter's first effort, "Wet Hot American Summer", was more akin to their traditional type of humor, and it worked in its own bizarre little way. "The Baxter" takes on a different type of humor, and it winds up totally separating itself from everything else Showalter & Co. have done to date. What makes "The Baxter" so unique is its depth. You would not expect that from a film like this, but it manages to really connect with the audience on a deeper level than most brain-dead romantic comedies. "The Baxter" turned out to be one of the best romantic comedies I have ever seen, on par with "I.Q." and "When Harry Met Sally". You will find yourself laughing out loud at the most mundane premises, but then you realize that what you're laughing at is pretty damn close to reality.

Michael Showalter stars as Elliot Sherman, a tax accountant, who has never really had trouble landing girls. He just can't seem to keep them. Just when he is about to make his move or say his vows, an old flame comes back and sweeps the girl he loves off her feet, and they usually live happily ever after. That is the curse of his life. One day, he meets a temp named Cecil Mills (Michelle Williams), who has a lot in common with him -- they both read the Dictionary for fun. Soon after they meet, however, Caroline Swann (Elizabeth Banks) enters and she and Elliot hit it off immediately. They seem like polar opposites, but they share a common love for one another. The film follows Elliot and Caroline as they plan their wedding, go through the typical ups and downs of a relationship, and deal with Bradley (Justin Theroux), Caroline's former love who shows back up, seemingly, to do to Elliot what all of the other ex-boyfriends have done to him over the years. At the same time, a deep friendship develops between Elliot and Cecil, unbeknownst to anyone else. Michael Ian Black co-stars as Elliot's casual dressing friend, David Wain as his soon to be brother-in-law, and Paul Rudd as Cecil's boyfriend Dan.

The humor in "The Baxter" can be described as dry...subtle...maybe even dimwitted. The fact of the matter is that you catch yourself laughing at jokes and situations that you don't really understand as being humorous. Most of the humor, on my part, came from Showalter's speech and dialect -- the way he delivered his lines. He has a way of manipulating the English language to make it a lot funnier that it actually is. The most gut-busting scene in the entire film comes when Caroline and her wedding planner Benson Hedges (Peter Dinklage) come up to Elliot's apartment, with a hiding Cecil in his bedroom and a blank questionnaire looming over them. The next few moments are priceless slapstick comedy. I also enjoyed a scene where Elliot, Caroline, and Bradley are out to dinner, with Elliot pretending that he has been to the restaurant before, ordering wine when all they serve is beer, and asking for a menu when all they serve is hamburgers. "The Baxter" is, basically, a collection of this scenes, strung together by the premise that Elliot is doomed to loneliness. Even at the end of the film, it is unknown whether or not Elliot and Cecil will stay together. We assume they will. But, once a baxter, always a baxter, perhaps.

Most of the primary problems with this film were technical. In about five scenes, you could see the boom mic fall into the shot. True, this is an independent film, but having it happen five times is still a little much for a major motion picture. Another problem I had was with the irreverancy of supporting characters played by Michael Ian Black and Catherine Lloyd Burns. Neither had a singular purpose in the film and it seemed as if all Black was there for was to wear bizarre clothing and give the "Stella" fans more bang for their buck. At least David Wain's character had a reason to be in the film -- that bench chat he has with Elliot that turns out to be one of the highlights of the film. The biggest problem I had with this film was that it seemed much more cheaply made than it actually was. I can handle some of the characters being unnecessary, but not when a fallen boom mic is covering their faces. "The Baxter" needed a much better production crew for the shoot.

As per the usual, performances in a romantic comedy can be a little boring. This film avoids this plague and manages to deliver non-stop entertainment. Showalter is hilarious as Elliot, Elizabeth Banks is luminous and very engaging as Caroline, and Justin Theroux really steals the film as Bradley. His scene at the church, that sounds like something out of "Guiding Light", still makes me bend over, hurting with laughter. The biggest treat came from Peter Dinklage as Benson Hedges, the wedding planner. I know he was using every homosexual stereotype known to man, but he used them so well, and there is just something about seeing a homosexual dwarf that makes me smile all the livelong day. Other than these, Paul Rudd and Michelle Williams also turned out wonderful performances in their respective roles. I think the key to making a film like this work is getting actors who don't take themselves too seriously, and that seems to be just what Showalter did with "The Baxter".

The odds are pretty strong that this film isn't going to be coming to a theatre near you for quite some time, if ever. More than likely, you will have to wait until it hits DVD, or gets a run on IFC or HBO or one of those cable channels. If you live near a big city, you might be able to find it, but you movie fans out in Marathon, Florida, and Beaver Creek, Montana, might have to order it off the internet. "The Baxter" was one hell of a funny film, and it made me change my opinion of Showalter and the guys from his little troupe. "The State" was one of my favorite shows, but I do not really enjoy "Stella". After seeing "The Baxter", it makes me think I might have missed something and should probably give it another shot. For all you 'other guys' out there -- "The Baxter" is going to be your Bible.

7/10.
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Tristan #1: Tristan - added 01/13/2007, 09:20 PM
I've loved Michael Showalter since I saw Wet Hot American Summer a few years ago, and when I heard he had another movie, I had to see it. I was in no way disappointed. This movie went against typical comedies, and was absolutely hilarious.
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