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Less a film, more a thought that surprisingly works
Bob Byington's 7 Chinese Brothers is less a film and more an idea, a thought, or even a potential TV show pilot. At seventy-one minutes in length, it's a film that practically questions what can be done with a film that has no cogent plot and relies on one simple, yet complex, character and his circumstances, most of which caused by his obnoxious attitude or his general indifference. On that basis alone, the film shouldn't be half as successful as it is, but through its feet-dragging narrative, practically impulsive structure, and low stakes, I did admittedly enjoy this film.
This film isn't laugh out loud funny, nor is it particularly compelling or insightful. It gives us Larry (Jason Schwartzman), a man evidently in his early thirties, living alone with his bulldog, who gets fired from his restaurant job minutes into the film for sneaking drinks at the bar. He wanders over to Quick Lube for an oil change, asks the cute manager girl for an application, and soon enough, he's working for an incorrigible man named Jimmy (Jimmy Gonzales), who encourages him to steal any spare change out of customers' vehicles. On top of all that, he's constantly going back and forth to the nursing home to visit his grandmother (Olympia Dukakis), who remains his last living relative, in addition to seeing his friend Major Norwood (Tunde Adebimpe).
Larry is the kind of character only Jason Schwartzman could play to great effect, for he conveys multiple different feelings with nearly every line or facial expression he conjures up. Larry is also the kind of character that acts like he has everything under control and that his cleverness and falsified feelings of self-worth will carry him to the places he needs to be. The problem is Larry really isn't half as good as he thinks he is, and this results for a lot of awkward scenarios thanks to Larry's random jokes/physical comedy and a multitude of impulsive, inappropriate actions that have consequences on his part.
Schwartzman has to carry a lion's weight of Byington's film on his back, and with that, succeeds because without a dynamic screen presence, 7 Chinese Brothers could've fallen apart in its first few minutes. But because Byington keeps the film moving, through fluid scenes that reflect humor and believable, albeit rather light, drama and never stalls into romantic or comedic clichés, the film, in turn, keeps moving and assembling a fun and breezy personality.
I have no idea what relevance the title has towards the story, nor can I figure out the takeaway from this film other than life can pass you by if you think you're funnier and more important than you actually are. However, through very little in the way narrative structure and flair and glamour, Byington has made 7 Chinese Brothers work almost solely on the charisma and dynamic talents of his leading actor, in addition to making this a largely fun, project. At the end of it all, I can admire that.
Starring: Jason Schwartzman, Olympia Dukakis, Tunde Adebimpe, and Jimmy Gonzales. Directed by: Bob Byington.
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