Before Oscar nominated Jesse Eisenberg reached worldwide audiences in Zombieland (2009) and The Social Network (2010), the latter film revealing his Oscar nominated leading performance, he stared in a little known film The Living Wake. This time not the lead but the support to Mike O’Connell’s eccentric artist K. Roth Binew who has been told by a doctor that he has a ‘yet to be named grave and vague disease’, thus resulting in him having one day to live, and incidentally knowing the exact time of his death, precisely 7.33pm. With the help of his trusty, and only, friend Mills Joquin (Eisenberg), K. Roth spends his final day travelling around the small town he resides in on a bicycle powered rickshaw, attempting to find out life’s mysteries and inviting people to his final performance, his living wake.
Opening with a delightful old-fashioned home video montage, which introduces us to the young K. Roth and the mystery of his disappearing father, the film immediately establishes itself as a little bit quirky. We then see the grown up Binew, a heavy drinking portly yet well-dressed man, who bellows his words in an over the top theatrical style which at first appears to be hammy acting on O’Connell’s part but soon transpires to be the performance-esque approach Binew takes to life. Eisenberg is refrained as K. Roth’s quiet and contemplative sidekick who is overshadowed by the larger than life artist at the centre of the story but by the end of the film reveals more depth than the rest of the film ever achieves.
The tone of the film is odd, part theatrical eccentricities and part pondering existentialism, but both never quite achieving symbioses. The Living Wake feels like it is attempting to be a Wes Anderson film but it doesn’t have the depth, attention to detail or fascinating characters that Anderson’s films contain. Binew is not particularly likeable as a main protagonist and therefore the resolution of the film falls flat. The film does look nice and the muted colour palette dominated with browns also evokes Anderson’s work as well as the beautifully composed long shots. The film has a timeless quality to it, reiterated by the small town aesthetic.
Comedian Mike O’Connell, who also co-wrote the film, makes the film feel much more theatrical than cinematic, it often feels like an extended comedy sketch. But saying that something does draw the viewer in enough to want to see what happens in the final act. The dialogue is well-written and satisfyingly verbose, but the attention seems to have been on that rather than character development. There are some memorable scenes, one in particular where the duo have lost track of time and go to a clock shop to try and find out the real time is amusing, but the film is not funny enough or consistent enough.
For all the criticisms though, The Living Wake certainly has something about it even though it feels like it is trying too hard to be idiosyncratic. There are some profound moments and Binew momentarily shows us a little depth but never enough for us to ever become attached to or really care for the character. Eisenberg is a little underused but still plays his stereotypically passive character. The other characters in the film are not particularly memorable which is perhaps the film’s biggest mistake; everything rests on the character of Binew.
This is a pleasant film to watch but unfortunately just made me want to watch a Wes Anderson film, one that truly immerses its audience in a whole eccentric world rather than a flat theatre set.
The DVD extras are plentiful and interesting with two commentaries, deleted scenes, featurettes and a short film which give some insight into the main feature.
The Living Wake is out on DVD on 26th March 2012.
Director: Sol Tryon
Writers: Peter Kline and Mike O’Connell
Stars: Mike O’Connell and Jesse Eisenberg
Runtime: 91 mins