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Jason Bateman’s Arrested Development

September 15, 2014

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Jason Bateman was a late bloomer as a movie star. After a brief shot at the big screen during his TV teen-idol days—he tried and failed to follow in Michael J. Fox’s furry footsteps with 1987’s tragically titled Teen Wolf Too—he mostly toiled in short-lived sitcoms like Chicago Sons and George & Leo. Yet he seemed to take a lesson from the latter’s co-star, Bob Newhart, and developed a dry, deadpan style that perfectly suited him to the  role of Michael Bluth, reluctant scion of a once-wealthy clan in Arrested Development. Though it ran only three seasons (initially—let’s forget the Netflix revival), it established him as a viable comic leading man.

He captured a certain quality of a man suffering from an early mid-life crisis in 2007’s Juno, but ever since then, Bateman seems to have been suffering from his own case of arrested development, giving essentially the same performance over and over again in disposable yet financially successful comedies like Couples RetreatHorrible Bosses and Identity Thief. He made his directorial debut last year with Bad Words, playing a guy with a real case of arrested development—he competes against kids in spelling bees. And now Bateman has truly bottomed out with The Longest Week.

What’s that, you say? You haven’t heard of The Longest Week? Maybe that’s because after quietly opening on a few screens last weekend, it’s currently playing in only one theater in the United States, at Minnesota’s Mall of America, no less. It’s a token, contractual theatrical release to coincide with its VOD launch. But don’t waste your money ordering it on-demand: It’s the worst film I’ve seen all year.

Writer-director Peter Glanz expands on his short film A Relationship in Four Days, stretching it out to seven (although the 86-minute movie feels even longer than that) and casting Bateman as Conrad Valmont—only one of the film’s many pretentious literary references—the nearly 40-year-old son of a wealthy family (where have I heard that before?) who’s suddenly cut off from his allowance after his parents are whimsically shipwrecked on a desert island and decide to divorce.

Does it sound like an idea that might’ve been found in Wes Anderson’s wastepaper basket? The Longest Week plays like the worst film Wes Anderson never made crossed with the worst film Woody Allen never made. To wit: It features an old-timey jazz score, the presence of Woody’s old pal Tony Roberts (as a character cutesily named “Barry the Therapist” although he refers to himself as an “analyst”—who uses that term anymore?), and pretentious literary-ish narration by Larry Pine, a veteran of both Anderson’s (The Royal Tennenbaums) and Allen’s (Melinda and Melinda) films.

Bateman falls for a Jane Austen-loving, piano-playing fashion model (the wildly miscast Olivia Wilde), who happens to be the love interest of his best friend (Billy Crudup, who couldn’t look more bored). The film is so self-indulgent and self-referential that it seems to be commenting on its own crappiness constantly. “I find it completely, overwhelmingly tedious and unnerving,” Crudup says of bachelorhood, but it could just as easily apply to the film, as could a remark spoken by a philistine played by Jenny Slate about a play: “I felt like it was sort of pretentious.How am I supposed to care about a group of overprivileged affluent types who go gallivanting around without any sort of a moral compass? I couldn’t get into it.”

As insufferable as the screenplay is, the cast—and particularly Bateman’s smugly you’re-gonna-love-me-no-matter-how-obnoxious-I-am performance makes it even more skin-crawlingly awful. Luckily, he only has to wait a few days to attempt to redeem himself as yet another son of a dysfunctional family in the dramedy This Is Where I Leave You. If Bateman can’t win me over again alongside the likable likes of Tina Fey, Corey Stoll, Adam Driver and Rose Byrne, this may be where I leave him… or at least his movies.

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