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Review: Looking for closure, ‘Give or Take’ only skims the surface in Cape Cod comedy-drama

Two men sitting on a couch in the movie “Give or Take.”
Jamie Effros, left, and Norbert Leo Butz in the movie “Give or Take.”
(Breaking Glass Pictures)
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“Give or Take” is a sincere, often involving family dramedy about coming to terms with the past — and the present. If only co-writers Paul Riccio (he also directed) and Jamie Effros (he stars) had dropped some of their story’s quirks and shaggy-dog bits for a deeper, more authentic dive into their main characters’ truer selves, the film might have taken off in a more distinctive and memorable way.

Another slip here is the casting of Effros in the lead role of Martin, a hangdog techie who travels from New York to Cape Cod to settle the estate of his late, estranged dad, Kenneth. Effros proves an overly bland presence, especially in contrast to his skillful, robust co-star, two-time Tony winner Norbert Leo Butz, who plays Ted, an unruly landscaper with whom Kenneth fell in love after his wife — Martin’s mother — died six years earlier.

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Much of the film finds Martin and Ted battling over Martin’s family home, which Kenneth and Ted shared together in the kind of joy and closeness Kenneth never quite had with Martin’s mom. Ted wants to stay in the house and pay it off over decades; Martin wants to sell it — there’s a $1.9 million cash offer on the table — and close the chapter on his dad. Not so fast.

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It’s the instant fallout and begrudging cease-fire between the uptight Martin and the grieving Ted that ultimately drives the action as Martin, hardly the most dimensional thinker, struggles to reconcile a host of personal issues. These include his longtime resentment toward his distant father, conflicted feelings about Kenneth’s coming out as gay, and the mind-boggling fact that his dad had become such a beloved figure both to Ted and his community. Where was that breezy guy when Martin was growing up and so desperately needed him?

Ted’s got plenty of his own dragons to slay — money and career woes, anger, loss, aimlessness — and he acts out in ways that might feel more organic if we had a better sense of who he was before meeting the older Kenneth. Ted’s a potentially far more interesting character than Martin, but the script too often keeps them both bobbing along the surface. We tend to get more bullet points than fine points, particularly about such things as Martin’s hovering homophobia, his relationship with unlikely girlfriend Lauren (Annapurna Sriram) and Kenneth’s clearly complicated history.

Still, there are enough relatable dynamics and situations here, as well as a few decent chuckles, to keep us invested in the film’s at times familiar if not always predictable journey. Note: A good 10-minute trim might have shored things up nicely.

On the supporting side, there are engaging turns from Joanne Tucker as Martin’s onetime friend and crush, Louis Cancelmi as a free-spirited pool cleaner, Cheri Oteri playing a relentless real estate agent and Jaden Waldman as an anxious neighbor kid.

Cape Cod’s off-season locales are evocatively captured by cinematographer Federico Cantini.

'Give or Take'

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 43 minutes

Playing: Starts Feb. 11, Laemmle Royal, West Los Angeles; available Feb. 22 on VOD

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