“Multiple Sarcasms” is Woody Allen lite — there’s a lot of introspective fumbling around and intellectual foreplay. But in the end, instead of a satisfying climax, it feels like someone is faking it.
Our central character is Gabriel ( Timothy Hutton), a NYC architect in the midst of a mid-life crisis of the mind. He’s cheating on his clients by spending afternoons at the movies. He’s lying to his wife Annie ( Dana Delany) and himself about his heart’s true desire: to write a play about his unraveling life and his fractured relationships — so it’s a comedy.
Even though director Brooks Branch and his co-writer, Linda Morris, don’t quite get it right, they don’t get it completely wrong either. Still, what the film succeeds best at is reminding us what’s gone missing since Woody’s decamped to London and Barcelona: the urban and urbane New Yorker whose penchant for talk therapy is satisfied by a cultured salon of friends and family willing to listen to whatever riptide of reality he’s currently caught in.
Instead we have Gabriel doing a lot of soul-searching that should provoke and enlighten us more than it does.
All the pieces are there. Set in 1979 New York, Delany’s Annie runs a gallery and hosts parties packed with the intellectual set that slightly bore Gabriel. They have a well-turned-out apartment where they live with their not-quite teenage daughter, Elizabeth. His best friend is Cari ( Mira Sorvino), but it works out because Annie’s not jealous and Cari and Elizabeth are pals.
Just when it seems nothing could go wrong, everything does with Gabriel losing his job along with his moorings. The rest of the film is spent with things coming unglued and then re-glued as the play starts taking shape along with Gabriel’s ideas about his life.
It’s a very solid ensemble of actors, with India Ennenga as Elizabeth playing just inside of precocious perfectly. They do a lot to carry the movie, with the scenes between Sorvino and Hutton nicely infused with the ease of old friends.
But Branch, who after an eclectic career ranging from painting to publishing is making his feature film debut, doesn’t yet know how to make the most of the talent he has at hand. Case in point: Stockard Channing as Gabe’s barely there agent. Her considerable skills might have been better used to flush out the angst of the writing life. Instead, it’s Hutton perched on the toilet with thoughts circling his head like vultures with a carcass to pick while he mutters into a tape recorder. Sometimes he ventures into the bedroom to peck out a few lines on an old manual typewriter. That is what passes for action here.
All of this to-ing and fro-ing is so that Gabe can recast a better version of his life for the stage. At least that’s the plan. The problem, and it’s a big one, is that if the central character heads off on a series of intellectual excursions, at some point the road should be paved with insight. Instead, Gabriel turns out to be maddeningly predictable. So rather than some deeper understanding of the human condition, what we get from “Multiple Sarcasms” is a lot of heavy breathing.