I Want Someone to Like This Movie With.

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I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With is a movie of quiet desperation, only because you can’t talk with your mouth full. Written by, directed by, and starring Chicagoan Jeff Garlin (“Jeff Greene” in Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm), the movie gives us James, a fat, lonely actor failing in Chicago. James stuffs his gut because the feelings that might come up from down there are too painful; he puts food into his mouth as a substitute for putting a gun into it.

The movie is funny, with many LOL moments, but the river of pathos that runs through it seems genuinely felt. The packed house at Chicago’s large Music Box Theatre on Friday night (where Garlin did a Q & A after the screening) responded to the funny and the sad.

One of the special things about the movie is that Garlin gives his actors opportunities to do more rounded and nuanced work than we’re used to seeing from them. I have loved Sarah Silverman’s sick sexual ditz for sarah-silverman.jpgclose to a decade now, but in Cheese she fleshes out the schtick so that she begins to resemble an actual person. You see sides to Silverman’s Beth that you’re not used to seeing from Silverman; a capacity in rare moments for narcissism-free joy, and a not-just-kidding-around self-loathing when her neurosis claims yet another victim in James.

I’ll happily continue to enjoy Silverman in her ironically distanced performance art (in her standup and her Comedy Central sitcom), but this was the first glimpse I’ve had that in addition to a talent for that, she is an actress.

Cheese also contains a layered performance from Bonnie Hunt. She plays a schoolteacher who seems together on the surface, and you think “I see where this is going, she’s going to be the strong woman who’ll rescue James”; then she gradually reveals deep insecurities, and you think, “Uh oh, another ditz who’s goingbonnie-hunt.jpg to destroy James”; and then you realize that here is a character whose strength lies in her ability not to avoid humiliation or be immune to it, but to endure it. We see in her (and ultimately so does James) that mortification is awful, but not always lethal. She is a beacon for him, but not the way you think at first.

An interesting tension exists between James, whom Garlin has clearly created out of his own interior life, and the successful, happily-married Hollywood macher that the real-life Garlin has become. In the Q & A, Garlin was funny, assertive, in-command, and not at all the poor soul we had just seen portrayed. (The one similarity he confessed is that he does, in real life, compulsively stuff himself with food in order to “stuff his feelings.”) In the dichotomy between himself and James, he had a mirror in his audience. Happy couples; boisterous groups of friends; well-dressed, successful movers and shakers; in appearance, whatever the opposite of lonely is. And yet, in its embrace of the movie, demonstrably an audience who knew what lonely is. I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With is a popcorn movie, one in which you may find yourself gobbling golden popped kernels happily by the handful, but which may cause you to examine why.jeff-garlin.jpg

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