As the film starts out, we are introduced to Paul Johnson (Peter Paige), a bored telemarketer who aspires to be an artist. I incorrectly assumed that the rest of the film would develop into a poor man's version of Garden State. And to be sure, there are a few similarities between the two films: mainly the narcissism with which writer/director/star Paige films himself. However, instead of being a film about a return home and the blossoming of a nubile love interest, the film is actually an unpleasant comedy about the hilarious, feel-good subject of pedophilia!
Paul is a delusional young man who lives without any real responsibility, floating through his existence by imagining painting on peoples' faces when they deliver bad news to him. His only sense of stability is his godson, Morgan. Why the child's Mother, Sarah (Lisa Edelstein) would ever see fit to make him the godfather is uncertain, but as it is he makes a good playmate for the child. Unfortunately, Sarah's husband gets a new job in Japan and the three have to pack up and move out of the country.
Paul ignores the news so that he can convince himself it isn't true. Instead of saying goodbye, he holes up in a donut shop and eats donuts until he is kicked out at closing time. He later attempts to visit Morgan but finds the new residents living in the house. Unable to face the truth, Paul accuses the occupants of being babysitters and demands to see his godson. After calming him down, Elise (Gabrielle Union) warms to this deranged intruder with questionable ease, won over by the mediocre and quite creepy painting that he was planning to give to Morgan.
Eventually Paul accepts what happened and goes into a steady depression. Realizing that children are the only thing that makes Paul happy, his best friend and potential love interest Russell (Anthony Clark) gives him the monumentally irrational advice of simply going to a crowded playground and cavorting with random kids. Not surprisingly, this catches the attention of the children's parents who initially are impressed by how uninhibited he is on the playground and later repulsed when they find out he isn't a parent himself. One of the mothers, Maggie (Kathy Najimi), sees a news report on child molesters and realizes that Paul fits the description. She takes it upon herself to alert the media and the townsfolk of this potential pedophile.
Maggie is slightly more timorous than need be and viciously ruthless in branding Paul a social leper but the fact of the matter is that she has legitimate reason to be concerned. For once in my life I actually found myself relating to a character played by Kathy Najimi. Paul behaves in egregiously idiotic manner; anyone should know not to wipe sand of a little girl's bottom or not to take
a random child into a store bathroom. At the heart of the matter, Paul is mentally unsound and should not be left alone with children whether he is or isn't a pedophile.
The movie expects us to sympathize with Paul's plight but I found that nearly impossible. Peter Paige is a moderately charismatic actor but not enough to pull off a character like this. Nor is he a skilled enough filmmaker to deal with a subject that so often veers into bad taste. The movie has a personality disorder just as bad as Paul's.
What's worst is the way Paige drenches the film in sitcom conventions and cliché jokes. A subject as grave as child molestation cannot rest comfortably alongside dimwitted exchanges like: "There's no I in Walker Telemarketing, Johnson!"Â
Or: "There's no playing here"Â¦ this is a toy store."Â
Further dousing the film in sitcom lore, co-star Anthony Clark used to be a favorite of mine back when he had his mid-90s NBC show, Boston Common. Watching him now I have difficulty remembering what it was I liked about him in the first place. Perhaps his timeslot between Friends and Seinfeld. One of the film's few bright spots is Melanie Lynskey as Maggie's lackey, Susan. Her comic timing is well developed and she manages to elicit a few laughs out of the hokey material.
Another attribute is the way it deals with Paul's homosexuality, which is basically not at all. He is not branded a pedophile because he is gay, that just happens to be part of his personality. He is branded a pedophile because he is mentally fractured and does not know how to behave as an adult.
Aside from the sitcom style screenplay, the other major problem with Paige's filmmaking is that he doesn't seem to have done much research on previous films that tackle the discourse of child molestation. Had he seen Andrew Jarecki's incisive documentary Capturing the Friedmans about a father-son duo of child entertainers accused of pedophilia, he would have been aware of the obvious miscalculation of having Paul dress up as a clown and consider it a future career path.
This kind of story might have been able to work in an episode of South Park or in the hands of veteran filmmakers that can deal with risqué material like The Farrely Brothers or Mel Brooks. But then again maybe this material is just not suitable for a comedy of this nature, no matter what creative team is behind it.
For a serious and sympathetic look at the disease, rent The Woodsman. For a factual and uncompromising look at a real life case, check out Capturing the Friedmans. For a hilarious, heartwarming romp about child molestation, don't see Say Uncle.
Movie Grade: D+
A young artist (Peter Paige), desperate to replace the relationship he had with his recently relocated godson,