Wyatt Cenac Greta Lee
Fits and Starts is a touching comedy with comedian Wyatt Cenac (The Daily Show). As David Warwik in this film, he and his onscreen wife, Jennifer (Lee) are very funny. And just as much or more entertaining are the “artistic” presentations at her book agents’ party in their home. We see writer/director Laura Terrusso’s satirical take on the avant garde art world, like an opera singer screeching out an aria, or a novelist reading an excerpt from his work (“I am the Fiji mermaid, a fish out of water…”). These “performances” are as funny as Jennifer’s and David’s real lives.
Everybody (on the street, in the bus, on a train) is reading Jennifer’s book, Blind Hearts. David makes a valiant conscious effort to praise, support, and accommodate his wife. He defers to her in many things (sometimes when he shouldn’t, and it works vice versa), but when others frequently forget they’ve ever met him, don’t listen when he talks, and praises Jennifer nonstop, his unconscious mind is taking it all in.
The two bicker on their way to a party hosted by her agent, and some of his resentments surface. Jennifer (as is her wont) immediately takes action and responds to his primary complaint. This unleashes a number of unexpected, discomfiting situations that the two will experience in the coming evening. They get separated, David goes to the party without the support he needs, and Jennifer has to deal with being alone. A smart ploy in the film is when she finally picks up David’s manuscript (which she never had time for before) and reads it.
The film is a bit at war with itself in poking fun at its main characters, policemen, and performers and attendees at soirees. It might have been better to maintain the focus on the couple as novelists, the situations/people they encounter in the social world, and the ways in which they try to deal with her success and his difficulty in getting published. Although the characterizations of the artists are comical, it makes the flow of the film disjointed and more of a comedy show than a film with substance.
Both Lee and Cenac are experienced actors primarily in television. He plays his role in a sardonic way, much as he does in his work on The Daily Show. It fits in well with a diffident character who has to deal with his spouse outshining him and who is socially unskilled in selling himself to agents and PR people. Greta Lee has an Asian look, and fits comfortably into that niche, where she plays a go-getter and self-promoter, just the opposite of her movie husband.
Writer/director Laura Terruso (Hello, My Name is Doris) is skilled in writing funny scenes that capture human foibles and in creating hilarious mix-ups among people. The encounters David has at the party when Jennifer is somewhere else are entertaining, and show his ability to act in dramas.
Husband-wife writers have to deal with discrepancies in their success even when the quality of their writing may be similar.