SXSW 2017 – Mr. Roosevelt (2017)


To avoid confusion, let’s get this out of the way early: Mr. Roosevelt is a cat, not the 26th President of the United States of America, or the 32nd (though he’s named after Teddy, not Franklin). He’s also dead, which isn’t great for him or his owners. One of those is Noël Wells who happens to be going through a moment in her career.

After stealing every scene in Master of None, no mean feat given how universally excellent that show is, she now has her own platform. Wells writes, directs, and stars in this thoughtful, funny and crowd-pleasing comedy-drama. She manages to capture and poke fun at the zeitgeist simultaneously, deflating hipster bubbles without resorting to sharp edges.

Wells plays Emily Martin, an aspiring comedian who upped and left Austin for the bright lights of LA. Despite several popular YouTube videos, she’s yet to work out how to monetise her talent and is left scraping pennies together in miserable editing jobs. Then from nowhere, her ex-boyfriend Eric (Nick Thune) calls and she’s rushing back to the town she left for the cat, and the man, she left behind.

The whole returning to discover home-truths and confront hidden ghost’s thing has been done repeatedly over the years. What makes Mr. Roosevelt work, and what keeps that brittle feeling of smug irony out the picture, is Emily. Wells writes and plays her with such self-deprecation she never ends in a situation where she’s looking down on others. Counter-balancing that is a deftness that makes her likeable despite a tendency to lapse into unlikable behaviour.

She quickly takes a dislike to Eric’s new partner Celeste (Britt Lower), and while it’s easy to see why, it’s also possible to see her reaction isn’t entirely appropriate. The same goes for pretty much everything she gets up to in Austin. There are parties with Jen, Daniella Pineda’s musician Emily meets in a restaurant, days out by the water, and instantly regrettable one-night stands.

While this is going on, Wells peppers the dialogue with sharp one-liners dissecting Emily’s actions. Mr. Roosevelt is funny, raising smiles and often flat-out laughs. There’s also such an excellent punchline involving the cat, it feels the entire film was made just for that moment. The only real negative is Jen, who comes from nowhere and is used as a crutch to hold Emily afloat. It’s the single element of an otherwise very good film that can’t support itself.

That doesn’t detract from Wells’ ability to capture the sense of exciting confusion surrounding the millennial gig-economy lifestyle. Emily doesn’t really have a clue what she’s doing, but she knows enough to understand she has to keep giving it a try somehow. There are dreams to be followed in Mr. Roosevelt. It’s making sense of them first we’re all working towards.

Director: Noël Wells
Writer: Noël Wells
Stars: Jill Bailey, Doug Benson, Kelli Bland
Runtime: 90 mins
Country: USA

Film Rating: ★★★★☆

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