When Josh (Thomas Middleditch, not straying far from Silicon Valley) arrives home from the gym on a wholly unremarkable day, he is confronted with the self-asphyxiated body of his lovely fiancé Rachel (Community’s Alison Brie), hanging by a belt from the doorknob. Rachel, whom we met briefly just moments earlier cooking dinner while not looking the faintest bit troubled, has abruptly chosen to end her life, leaving behind no indication of what it was that made her do it. Josh is stunned. Who wouldn’t be?
This is the jarring way that Joshy announces itself. What seems in its opening moments to be a lightweight indie vehicle starring a couple of familiar faces from televised comedy goes in for the kill so viscerally and unexpectedly that it’s more than a little disorienting. But Rachel’s startling demise is first of not too many surprises that Joshy will ultimately spring on us, as it wastes little time transitioning right back into the low-key Sundance time-passer it seemed to be setting up initially. For you see, Josh has a gang of pals who had planned a bachelor-party weekend for their boy and, four months post-tragedy, the fellas decide to keep their reservations in place, repurposing the trip into a therapeutic sojourn for the erstwhile groom.
Josh’s buddies are types rather than characters. There’s Eric (Nick Kroll, playing the douche as always), the party monster who’s out to render the weekend as debaucherous as he can; Adam (Alex Ross Perry), a soft-spoken nerd with relationship troubles as well as a D&D-flavored board game that he keeps attempting to push on everyone; Ari (Adam Pally), the well-balanced straight man to the rest of these goofs; and Greg (Brett Gelman), a bearded weirdo who was invited by Eric. The gang descends upon a ranch house in Ojai, CA, and quickly finds out that there’s a whole lot of nothing in particular to do there. There is, however, a lone bar in town, and it isn’t long before they all wind up there, Adam having no luck in making that board game sound like an enticing activity. At the bar, they meet a girl named Jodi (Jenny Slate) who is in town on her own getaway with friends and who quickly forms a bond with Ari.
And that’s about it. Joshy is quick to settle into a familiar mumblecore-hangout groove. So stringent is it on following the indie-film playbook that it’s almost astonishing that there isn’t a Duplass brother on hand. The film was shot in 15 days from just a 20-page outline, leaving it largely improvised, and believe me, it shows. The film has a formless structure, set almost entirely inside that ranch house, with each character repeatedly hammering away at the character trait they’ve been assigned. Eric enlists strippers and a loquacious sex worker to drop by. Adam mopes about the death of his decade-long relationship. Ari cutesies around with Jodi, keeping to himself the wife he has at home. Greg is weird. There isn’t a lot here. Occasionally the film seems to be flirting with the notion of dipping its toe the realm of farce, but always preemptively arrives at the conclusion that this would expend too much effort.
As the lead character, Josh himself is also pretty thin. Despite the tragedy he has suffered, the film doesn’t give Middleditch much more to do than to trot out his standard nebbish routine. The lone exception comes from a surprisingly devastating scene where Rachel’s parents (Paul Reiser and Lisa Edelstein) drop by the house, at first with a conciliatory tone that soon gives way to their true intentions of attempting to obtain evidence of Josh’s involvement in their daughter’s death. That scene and the one that immediately follows, where Josh has a teary, rage-filled breakdown in front of his friends, momentarily gives Joshy a dramatic kick that gratifyingly breaks up the film’s improv-show amorphousness.
Yet despite its shortcomings and less-is-less approach, Joshy goes down fairly smoothly. A hangout movie only has as much appeal as the people with which it asks you to hang out and, apart from Kroll, this bunch is mostly agreeable. Slate is a delight, as always, and Perry’s mumbly neurotic is a lot of fun. Aubrey Plaza also pops her head in for a few minutes as one of Jodi’s friends, though without a whole lot to do (though her banter with Perry makes the short time worthwhile). Movies don’t get much more slight than Joshy, but plenty with a whole lot more ambition have been much more difficult to sit through.
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