Jason Schwartzman is one of the current film industry’s more curious actors. He’s a good looking guy yet his sense of humor and acting style are quirky, offbeat and sometimes, downright strange. He exists in a category all in his own and it’s something that has worked for him since 1998 when he dazzled indie audiences with the titular character in Wes Anderson’s dramedy classic Rushmore. At only 17-years-old, Schwartzman made a name for himself in the film business and has been constantly delighting audiences ever since. He is an alternative leading man and effortlessly breaks away from the pack. His movie and TV roles (Bored to Death) are almost always on the border of dark and fun and his latest cinematic effort 7 Chinese Brothers is a predictable entry in his filmography however there are a few surprises in the sobering tale.
Meet Larry (Schwartzman), a slightly alcoholic smart ass who has just been fired from his job at a local restaurant. He soon procures other employment at a Quick Lube but is reluctant at first. After a while, he adjusts and even makes some friends. Larry has two loves in his life, his sassy grandmother (played brilliantly by Academy Award winner Olympia Dukakis) and his French bulldog companion Arrow (Schwartzman’s real-life dog). The film basically follows Larry as tries to get through life the best he can with as little screw ups as possible.
7 Chinese Brothers is an independent dramedy through and through. Writer/director Bob Byington (Somebody Up There Likes Me, Harmony and Me) has given us a film that is quiet and subdued, funny and heartbreaking all at once. Byington is considered to be part the Mumblecore movement, a cinematic entity that saw an influx of films from writers and directors who prided their works on naturalism, improvisation, low budgets and strong artistic merit. The Mumblecore movement began in 2002 and continues to thrive to this day. Some other filmmakers who took part in the movement were Andrew Bujalski, Lynn Shelton, Joe Swanberg and Mark and Jay Duplass. Byington is certainly in good company with these fellow visionaries.
Referencing an R.E.M. song (and nothing else), 7 Chinese Brothers is an average film that relies almost exclusively on Jason Schwartzman’s unique acting ability. His character spends the bulk of the film spewing sarcasm left and right and not really caring about anyone other than himself. Aside from Schwartzman, the fantastic Olympia Dukakis steals every scene she’s in and we get even more acting power (and humor) from relative newbie Tunde Adebimpe (Rachel Getting Married, Jump Tomorrow) who plays Grandma’s nurse and Larry’s buddy/drug dealer and his performance is nothing short of sensational.
7 Chinese Brothers is not a perfect film by any means but it does possess within it, a strong sense of honesty. It reflects reality excellently and with its indie flavor, it is one of the more true films to be released in recent times. The working relationship between Schwartzman and Byington is fine one and here’s hoping that the two continue to give audiences what they need: a good story and an effective way to pull it off.