(director/writer: Michael Maren; screenwriter: based on a novel by Chris Belden: cinematographer: Edd Lukas; editors: Patrick J. Smith/Ed Yonaitus; music: Alex Wurman; cast: Michael Shannon (Shriver), Kate Hudson (Simone Cleary), Don Johnson (T. Wasserman), Zach Braff (Real Shriver), Kate Linder (College President), Peyton List (Sophie Firestone), Wendy Malick (Dr. Bedrosian), Perry Mattfeld (Layla), Aja Naomi King (Blythe Brown), Da’Vine Joy Randolph (Delta Jones), Mark Boone Junior (Lenny), M. Emmett Walsh (Prof. Arthur Baldwin); Runtime: 104; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Michael Reiser/Byron Wetzel/Lucas Jarach/Josh Kesselman/Jina Panebianco/Robert Ogden Barnum; Saban Films; 2023)

“Too bad the observations of the academics never were that deep or emotionally connective.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Michael Maren (“A Short History of Decay”) directs and writes a story based on the 2013 novel by Chris Belden.

It’s a playful satire of modern life, a mistaken-identity comedy,
a spoof on academia, a silly romantic farce, and a surreal take on mental disabilities. It tries hard to be funny, and sometimes is (but mostly it is not funny).

Shriver (Michael Shannon), in an underdog role Charlie Chaplin played as the King of Comedy in the silents, is an uneducated and alcoholic NYC apartment-building janitor. By mistake the impostor is invited to an out-of-town campus in the west, to an endangered writer’s conference facing budgetary cuts, at the fictional
Acheron University.

The writer and academic Simone Cleary (Kate Hudson) is the conference organizer. For this year’s event she nabs
a J.D. Salinger-like recluse named “Shriver,” who published “Goat Time,” a generational novel some 20 years ago. He has since that time not been seen by anyone in public.

Simone interviews the impostor when he arrives, and though finding him odd decides he’s a keeper. While he’s smitten with her.

It’s an uneven film of contrivances. Shannon gives us a brazen and eccentric performance. Other performances that m
atter come from Don Johnson, as the grouchy, drunk, horse-back riding, Thoreau-loving English professor and Wendy Malick as the lustful gynecologist and literary groupie trying to get another important literary figure in the sack, Shriver, for bragging rights.

Too bad the observations of the academics never were that deep or emotionally connective. It’s a doleful film with comical possibilities that were not met.