We hear every year about the unimaginable volume of movies submitted to the Sundance film festival, and every year, we look at some of the competition selections and just say “Huh?” Director Drake Doremus’ Douchebag—a black comedy lacking somewhat in both blackness and comedy—isn’t a bad film, exactly, but it is undistinguished, in the sense that its ideas and emotional payloads are both safe and small. A roadtrip saga about estranged brothers, Sam and Tom (Andrew Dickler and Ben York Jones), who are thrown together by Sam’s well-meaning fiancée (Marguerite Moreau) despite their total lack of affinity for each other, Douchebag offers a refreshingly candid view of the durability of familial hatreds. The novel twist is that, on the eve of his wedding, Sam is still an infantile and unreconstructed jerk—opinionated, self-loving and relentlessly politically correct—as well a compulsive womanizer. In the guise of helping Tom to find the lost love from his childhood so she can join Tom in Sam’s wedding party, Sam uses the brothers’ journey to act out against both his sibling and his impending marriage in one last blaze of self-destructive vainglory and narcissism.
There’s a lot of comedic potential in a set-up like that, but Douchebag achieves almost none of it. Though well-acted by Dickler, Sam is such monochromatically unpleasant company that even Douchebag’s 81 minute running time feels long. The film’s pay-offs, when they come, are so seismic they seem strained and false, with Sam realizing the error of his ways and changing himself so severely for the good it makes the whole picture seem hollow. The virtue of Douchebag’s early scenes is that they capture forcefully the powerful currents of disaffection that course through close relationships gone bad. When Sam changes after one brief moment of conflict it’s as if someone swatted him with a magic wand. Douchebag has followed Sam’s lead, and betrayed itself.
If this really is the cream of the substantial Sundance submissions crop, you have to wonder: Has youthful cinematic ambition really gotten so small?
Cast: Andrew Dickler, Ben York Jones and Marguiritte Moreau
Director: Drake Doremus
Screenwriters: Lindsay Stidham, Drake Doremus, Jonathan Schwartz, Ben York Jones and Andrew Dickler
Producers: Jonathan Schwartz and Marius Markevicius
Running time: 81 min.
Release date: TBD