I came to an unfortunate conclusion watching The Baxter last night. I don't think I much like Michael Showalter. I'd like to like him, if that makes any sense. I like the company he keeps. I like his intelligent sense of humor and whimsy. I like his suits. But I don't like the characters he plays, and I don't like the image of himself he's presenting. Why? I thought about it after the movie, and I think it makes me uncomfortable. And not in a good way. I need to explain. Michael Showalter plays losers and wimps. Guys who stay indoors and play Scrabble with their cats. But that is not why I don't like this persona he's created - I'm quite capable of liking a good geek. It's not that it's hitting too close to home for comfort either, though I know that's what he's trying for.
What it is is it's entirely obvious to me that his hipster doofus is a complete character he's created to win over girls, and there's not really anything sincere or real about it. His sad sack loser in The Baxter is sooo annoyingly emasculated that it didn't feel honest, ever. He had this great concept, the story of The Other Guy in a romantic comedy, the guy that's just not right for the heroine, the guy that gets left at the alter, to tell his story, and Showalter was just too focused on the concept to focus on giving us a real guy. It was all just too... cutesy. I never bought that any man in their right mind would allow the Justin Theroux character as much leverage as Showalter's character was - it was the scene at the restaurant specifically that I just found myself terribly annoyed. Why would he just sit there and allow this guy to humiliate himself like that? It really stepped beyond the idea of "This is a guy who can't speak up for himself" into way too much contrivance for the purpose of the plot.
And also, I think, that some straight women love a guy who'll play such an ugly caricature of wimpiness. Aww, isn't it sweet what a loser he is? And yeah, guys are such wimps! Blah. And if it felt real, and not just like a pose he was striking to be oh-so-adorable, I would have a lot less of a problem with a movie painting such an unflattering portrait of a loser. But it felt opportunistic and false. His character just was not likable at all.
But beyond my gripes with Showalter's schtick, the movie wasn't awful. I laughed a lot, and found myself really surprised by how endearing I found Michelle Williams to be. I feel prepped to watch and like her in Brokeback Mountain now. Justin Theroux was spot-on hysterical ("maybe medicine or soccer"). These were stock characters doing a schtick, but at the same time I thought they were bringing a natural ease to it, to making them feel like actual people, and I hate to rail on the guy but Showalter just didn't make me like him. In a movie about flipping the point of view and seeing how the loser lives, I felt like he was still on the other side, laughing at the poor guy.