Lousy Carter

Lousy Carter

2024, NR, 80 min. Directed by Bob Byington. Starring David Krumholtz, Jocelyn DeBoer, Luxy Banner, Stephen Root, Martin Starr, Olivia Thirlby, Macon Blair, Lee Eddy, Andrew Bujalski.

REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., March 29, 2024

Nobody is as invested in miserable bastards as Austin-based filmmaker Bob Byington. He is the bard of the gleeful underachiever. Those that do not fail but instead succeed in their aggressive pursuit of failure. Losers who embrace their self-destruction as a badge of honor in a worthless world. Honestly, such characters could be insufferable, and by all rights should be (if Jason Schwartzman's misanthropic Larry from 7 Chinese Brothers had taken a brick to the head, Krazy Kay style, no one would have been too upset). What makes his antagonistic protagonists bearable are Byington’s casting decisions: As he said about 2019’s statutory rape dry comedy (yes, you read that right) Frances Ferguson, his scripts focus on outcasts, “then we hire charismatic actors to make up for that.”

In Lousy Carter, the charisma comes from David Krumholtz (The Plot Against America, Oppenheimer) as Lousy Carter, a lower-tier literature professor with a dismal nickname at a bottom-of-the-barrel university who has, as he dryly puts it, been diagnosed with adult early onset dying. And, fortunately for Byington and Lousy Carter, Krumholtz has the lived-in charm of an old teddy bear, a gruff, soft, shagginess that makes Lousy’s company at least a little bearable even as just about every action makes him more insufferable.

And he does stack up the insufferabeness: sleeping with the wife (DeBoer) of his only friend in the faculty (Byington regular Starr), grousing about everything to his ex (Thirlby), blowing off an old friend and fan (Blair), cutting costs on his mother’s funeral, and lazily trying to bang one of his students (Banner) by getting her to “pose” for his unfinished animated adaptation of Nabokov’s dry run for Lolita, Laughter in the Dark.

Byington’s target seems to be a twist on the old saw of a man who must reconsider his life in the face of mortality. But, in true Byingtonesque fashion, Lousy lacks the gumption to make either a grand gesture or even quiet motions – Kurosawa’s Ikiru capsized by a shrug. In a jauntier movie, maybe Lousy might achieve some growth by actually dumping his dead-end lecturing job and embracing that passion project. Instead, he falls back into his comfortable discomfort.

Not to be cruel, but this seems like a case of physician, heal thyself. Byington is a talented director with a flair for drawing subtle performances that play deliciously with ennui and happy selfishness. Yet Lousy Carter feels like Bob Byington making a Bob Byington movie with what’s at hand (the film was shot in Austin at the old Baker Center in Hyde Park, and is replete with local talents including Blair, Lee Eddy, and fellow director Andrew Bujalski in a cameo). Oddball and obvious decisions, like having Stephen Root play Lousy’s shrink with a thick German accent, are mixed with line deliveries that would have felt flat in a table reading. Even his depiction of modern academia, with students scoffing at Lousy’s graduate course on The Great Gatsby with half-baked political analyses, seems banal.

Even by Byington’s lo-fi standards, Lousy Carter feels ramshackle. It’s got traces of the familiar warm bathos of his sardonic best work. However, like Lousy’s cardigan, it’s all a little threadbare.

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Lousy Carter, Bob Byington, David Krumholtz, Jocelyn DeBoer, Luxy Banner, Stephen Root, Martin Starr, Olivia Thirlby, Macon Blair, Lee Eddy, Andrew Bujalski

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