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Review: ‘Aardvark’ is a sluggish, uncertain family drama

(L-R) - Actor/producer Zachary Quinto and actor Jon Hamm in the first still from writer/director Bri
Zachary Quinto, left, and Jon Hamm in the movie “Aardvark.”
(Walter Thomson / Due Process Films)

Despite a strong lead cast and good intentions, “Aardvark” is a drag. Writer-director Brian Shoaf may have much to say about family dysfunction and its emotional effects but never finds a persuasive enough way to mine this oft-tread territory.

The sluggishly paced film’s split perspective adds to its narrative unease. Although Josh (Zachary Quinto), a quirky barista with an inconclusive mental illness, would seem the protagonist, his gentle, lonely therapist, Emily (Jenny Slate, wonderful), proves a deeper, more intriguing soul.

But by shuttling between the two characters, we never learn enough about either’s histories and issues to sufficiently draw us in. The film’s dreamy, elliptical approach doesn’t help.

This is only exacerbated once Craig (Jon Hamm), Josh’s estranged actor-brother — and the apparent object of his eternal angst — shows up, sleeps with Emily (okay, she’s a bad therapist) and makes us further question Josh’s belief that he sees Craig in the form of other people, a complex notion that goes underexplored.

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Josh also starts a potential romance with Hannah (Sheila Vand), a patient young woman he randomly meets. But there are signs that, like much else that happens here, the experience could be imagined.

The film finally gains its footing toward the end only to slip again at the fade out. As for the aardvark motif, that remains as vague and peculiar as the rest of this uncertain journey.

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‘Aardvark’

Rating: PG-13, for mature thematic issues, language, some sexuality and violence.

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Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes.

Playing: In limited release.

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