When I think of Jeff Garlin, words don’t come to mind, but rather the instinct to just laugh. From voice acting in Pixar movies, to being a powerhouse on Curb Your Enthusiasm, to providing fatherly weirdness on The Goldbergs, Garlin’s name and loud voice are synonymous with comedy.
I’m just let down that his talents couldn’t translate to his latest directorial effort.
Right from the get go, Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie arrives with comedy dread. I’m not exaggerating, either. The opening scene gives us what appears to be a clever joke, with the possibility of a payoff later on. But there’s no payoff; just a flat joke that’s also puzzling. The rest of film is like that. Homicide detective Handsome (Garlin) and his partner Scozarri (Natasha Lyonne) get a brutal case involving a chopped-up body serving as lawn decor in front of a famous actor’s house (played by Steven Weber). Handsome’s a professional (and also easily annoyed), but recent personal events have him more rattled than usual. He’s dealing with his upcoming retirement, losing weight, and slowly gathering the gull to pine for his new neighbor, Nora (Christine Woods). The case gets complicated when suddenly, all of those seemingly separate issues in Handsome’s life gradually combine into one pain in his ass.
When Handsome’s dust settles, I felt there were a few things that provided a gentle chuckle. Amy Sedaris, playing Handsome’s boss, works her magic in the very small screen time she has. Some of the dialogue was sharp, bringing back reminders of Garlin’s Curb past. Garlin himself is…well, it’s Garlin as a detective. If you’re a fan, that aspect alone is enough to keep you watching. Hands-down the best thing about Handsome is Lyonne as his partner. I’m not sure if it’s because I haven’t seen her in a long time, but she’s clearly given some of the best moments of the film, and she turns them all into gold. There’s a particular scene where the two of them talk about the film San Andreas and looking back, that wasn’t just the best scene in the film, it was hilarious. Garlin and Lyonne bounced off each other very well, but they’re only given a few scenes together. Why couldn’t the movie have revolved more about their partnership?
Instead, Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie is comprised of cruddy awkwardness. Awkwardness in comedies is extremely hard to pull off and even harder to watch, especially if it’s done right. If you’re like me and you wince to the point of covering your face whenever a character you love goes through some kind of pain (I’m fun to watch sitcoms with), the desired effect is achieved. The problem with Handsome is that none of the characters or situations are presented with concrete material to get us to care, so when it’s awkward, it’s just there with ineffective responses & silence. Imagine someone told you a joke they thought was really funny (it’s not), and delivered it with the charisma of a raisin. After it’s over, do they leave? Oh no, they just stand there, staring at you until you fear it’s never going to end. It’s bad when it involves his work life, but even worse when it involves his social life. Combine that must of coarseness with poor shot compositions and a lackluster score from Ben Folds (wait, what?) and the majority of Handsome is a struggle to get through.
Even with all that, though, Handsome: A Netflix Mystery Movie isn’t enough to deter a Jeff Garlin fan. If you look back at his filmography as a director, you’ll notice a lot of his work deals in the realm of dry comedy. I had forgotten he made I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With, which I liked very much. I can say this with confidence; Garlin is a master of lively comedy, and when it comes to dry humor, there are some hits and misses. That comes with the territory for any comedian. It’s just a letdown become Handsome, on paper, seemed like it came to play. It has an intriguing plot and a cast that’s game (seriously, cast Lyonne in more stuff). The idea of Garlin playing a detective is more than enough to garner a smile. But the trading of dry humor with awkward humor just didn’t work out this time. I hope he tries again, though. In fact, I look forward to it. In the meantime, I’m going to seek out I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With for a rewatch.