Quirky satire gently skewers celebrity, obsessive fandom, social media, cyberstalking…and breakfast cereal
Starring Tony Hale, Alan Tudyk, Danielle Brooks, Paul Walker Hauser & Elisha Cuthbert
Directed by Scott Abramovitch
In select theaters and VOD, Friday, April 30, 2021
Sid Straw is a nice guy. But he tries too hard—too hard to make jokes, too hard to make conversation, too hard to impress, too hard to make a toast at a party, too hard to be nice, too hard to make his date into his “girlfriend.”
And he certainly tries to hard trying to make people believe he was once friends with actress Elizabeth Banks.
That’s the premise of this quirky satire about social media, celebrity, obsessive fandom and relationships starring Veep’s Tony Hale as Sid, an Arizona software sales manager who’s over-the-moon to find out he’s been assigned to co-chair the planning committee for his upcoming college reunion. But as a latecomer to social media, the platform for all the planning, he plunges in and begins by creating an account on Facebook. Looking up old classmates on the University of Pennsylvania reunion site, he comes across Banks.
Clicking on a link to her official Facebook page, Sid’s memory is whooshed back to his campus days, when he once dated Banks’ sister—well, her sorority sister. And he remembers how—long before she’d go on to stardom in movies like The Hunger Games and Pitch Perfect—the actress-to-be would cheerily, jokingly remind her friends to “eat Wheaties!”
But no one believes Sid really knew Banks. Not his coworkers, not his younger brother, especially not his highly skeptical sister-in-law, who still blames Sid for ruining her wedding with an elaborate practical joke that bombed.
It’s just Sid, they all think, trying way too hard, again. Even when he wrangles an autographed photo—two, actually—from Bank’s L.A. management office, they still scoff.
Sid, however, is undeterred. He begins sending Banks personal messages on Facebook—lots of messages. And being new to the whole social media thing, he doesn’t realize that what he’s writing to her isn’t private; it’s being posted on Banks’ public “wall,” for all of her fans, and the whole world, to see.
So, Sid is blindsided when his “relationship” with Banks goes viral—and he becomes a widely mocked media sensation, an icon for a hyper-obsessive cyber-stalking kook. He’s slapped with a restraining order from Banks’ management, which means he has to stop contacting her—and worst of all, he won’t be able to even attend the reunion if she does.
And just when you wonder how things can get lower for Sid, they do.
Making his feature directorial debut, Scott Abramovitch adapted the screenplay from a 2003 novel by Michael Kun called The Locklear Letters, about a man’s obsession with Melrose Place actress Heather Locklear. Themovie takes the “analog” premise of the book, in which old-school postal mail was the method of communication, into the age of the internet and social media (with the film’s literary roots getting a sly shout-out in an early scene.) Abramovitch makes this little indie gem—which launched to much acclaim at film festivals late last year—a real lo-fi treat, populating it with a talented ensemble cast that understands how to slow-cook the tasty juices of a subtle, nuanced comedy, finding all the flavors of funny in its tale about a star-crossed schmo who becomes the stand-in for just about all of us.
Who doesn’t want to be liked? To have people to share our lives, our experiences, our joys? To be part of a team, a group, a tribe? And who among us hasn’t used Facebook, or some other internet search, to pry into the past of someone we maybe-sorta-kinda “knew” from our high school or college days?
Sid may be haplessly awkward and comically clueless about his lack of boundaries, but the movie never makes fun of him. If anything, it makes us sympathize, cringe for him when he takes things too far, hoping that he can somehow prevail over his ever-deepening predicament. And we laugh, partly because we’ve all been there; we get it. Indifferent coworkers, the double-edged sword of social media, the lure of spending a little too long online, taking dreamy detours down memory lane—oh, yeah, been there, done that.
Hale, who’s received two Emmys for his role as minion-like political aide Gary Walsh on HBO’s Veep, also brought out his comedy chops as the neurotic Buster Bluth on the hit Fox sitcom Arrested Development. (And he provided the voice of Forky the spork, who played a significant role in Toy Story 4.) Eat Wheaties! is his breakout as a lead in a live-action movie, and he’s marvelous, finding the tricky soft center of humanity and empathetic longing in Sid’s loneliness and his need for relationships and connection.
Even though he’s drawn in a comedic extreme, Sid and his situation take on even more potency in this long, lingering era of COVID-19, when nearly everyone’s been cooped up, shut in or locked down, and so many of us have, indeed, been spending more time than ever on our computers and social media. Sid’s not the only person who’s ever tumbled down a rabbit hole on the internet, at work or elsewhere, especially during a time when we’ve all had to put many of real-life relationships on some kind of temporary hold.
The first-rate supporting cast features a bonus crop of familiar faces, including David Walton (New Girl and Council of Dads), Elisha Cutbert (The Ranch and Happy Endings), Lamore Morris (Call Me Kat) and Danielle Brooks (Orange is the New Black). Allen Tudyk, who plays one of Sid’s blowhard classmates, is a veteran of more than 120 TV, film and voiceover roles, and Paul Walter Hauser—who appeared in the movies Da Five Bloods and I, Tonya, and starred in Richard Jewell—seems instinctively in step with the movie’s affectionately droll wit as a bargain-bin lawyer-in-training, who gets his first big case when Sid hires him to help fight his restraining order.
But his movie belongs to Hale, all the way, who makes us like Sid even when Sid makes us wince. He’s an underdog, an oddball, but he’s an exaggerated, underdog oddball version of us. And he’s an underdog oddball we definitely want to see win, to get his life back on track, maybe even come out on top.
So, you go, Sid. Get it, buddy. And as your old college friend Liz would say, “Eat Wheaties!”