Best known for being Wes Anderson’s muse (second only to Bill Murray), Jason Schwartzman is one of the poster boys for awkward American indie cinema. You know the type, think Napoleon Dynamite, Juno (technically Canadian), Adventureland.
In Bob Byington’s new film, 7 Chinese Brothers, Schwartzman stars as a 30-something-year-old slacker named Larry. Larry lives alone with his equally as lazy French bulldog, Arrow, and drifts from dead-end job to dead-end job, occasionally visiting his sassy Grandmother (Olympia Dukakis) and getting prescription drugs off his nurse buddy, Major (TV on the Radio frontman Tunde Adebimpe). He finally gets a steady job at an auto mechanics cleaning cars where he falls hard for his boss, Lupe (Eleanore Pienta).
Taking its name from an R.E.M song, 7 Chinese Brothers meanders along for 70 minutes without much conflict or purpose. As an intimate and minuscule character study, it’s successful is exhibiting the archetype loser character that Schwartzman so often depicts. However, there isn’t enough going on in the film’s plot for it to be a huge statement about society’s flaws.
The film plays out like a series of small occurrences that are all interlinked with one another. From Larry getting fired from his initial job, to Larry visiting his Grandmother, to Larry getting his second job, to Larry getting fired from his second job, etc… The plot is somewhat all too tiring and pointless.
In fact, it could be too insufferably tiring and pointless if it weren’t for Schwartzman’s uplifting performance. He is able to take the best out of the most obnoxious character traits and make Larry’s demeanour almost delightfully eccentric. Schwartzman is never better than when he’s playing a lovelorn loser (see Rushmore) and Larry is wholly a man who can’t get what he wants, mainly because he’s too lazy to try.
A huge hit at this year’s SXSW festival in the film’s setting Austin, 7 Chinese Brothers is also showing at this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival as part of their International Panorama section.
7 Chinese Brothers is ultimately a very charming film that teeters on the edge of becoming too sickly sweet and purposely quirky. For Schwartzman fans, the film will be a delight exhibiting the actor’s most well honed performances traits. But for those who aren’t practically fond of quirky American indie cinema, it will seem overly long for it’s 70 minute running time and completely pointless.