He’s almost got something to say: Sitcom actor can’t break out
For six years, the actor Josh Radnor has been playing Ted Mosby on the
Radnor’s movie is few of those things. It’s sluggish and trite and irrelevant in a way that suggests that the TV soundstage is a kind of hothouse that Radnor doesn’t leave often enough. He shot the film on the streets of New York, but it could be anywhere, and these characters could be anyone. Radnor plays Sam, a writer trying to get his first novel published. The morning of his big meeting with a publisher produces the movie’s first uh-oh moment, when his best friend, Annie (Malin Akerman), tells him to believe in himself: “You’re the voice of our generation.’’ If that’s true, Sam needs a megaphone. The book appears to be called “The Other Great Thing About Vinyl.’’
A scene later, Sam, on his way to the meeting, finds himself in custody of a small boy (Michael Algieri) he finds abandoned on the subway. It’s uh-oh moment number two. The boy is named Rashaan. He has brown skin (Sam and everyone else in this New York are white). He doesn’t speak and makes one facial expression. This could be the result of Rashaan’s years in the New York City foster-care system, or of Radnor’s not knowing how to direct Algieri.
Either way, rather than try to make this dubious pairing work by exploring a real relationship with the boy, Radnor invites more characters to crowd the movie. Mary Catherine (Zoe Kazan) and Charlie (Pablo Schreiber) are negotiating a possible move to Los Angeles. Annie, who has been left hairless by alopecia, is avoiding a nebbishy lawyer (Tony Hale) at her job. And Sam tries to strike up something with a waitress and aspiring singer, played by Kate Mara, who has a surprising microphone moment with a Kander and Ebb song. The cast is good, even speaking some of the overripe dialogue, especially Akerman, who should always work without her hair.
But the movie treats Rashaan like a puppy, a token of Sam’s worthiness as a person. It doesn’t complicate or consider upping the moral stakes. Mary Catherine mentions that Sam might be exploiting the boy. But Radnor’s writing is risk-averse. He raises the possibility of a better, more complicated film about guilt and ambition and self-doubt only then to say that he won’t be making that movie. “I’m just a suburban kid with good parents,’’ Sam says to Rashaan. But it’s also Radnor apologizing to us: “Look, I work on a sitcom. I don’t do social work.’’ And, in this case, he’s right.
Wesley Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.