2017 Tribeca Film Festival: It’s unusual to see a movie like “Literally, Right Before Aaron.” This film gets almost all of the hard emotional moments right, while fumbling nearly every lighter one. Dramedies that can’t figure out the drama while acing the comedy are a dime a dozen. This one flips the script and oddly suffers for it. Filmmaker Ryan Eggold has more than one sequence that hits so profoundly on what heartbreak is like, but it’s mixed in with regrettable awkward comedy scene after regrettable awkward comedy scene. Throughout the movie, it’s one step forward and two steps back, limiting any effectiveness for the work.
It’s a real shame that “Literally, Right Before Aaron” is this flawed, since at its best there’s a melancholic universality to it, with Justin Long doing some of his best work to date. Too often though, it meanders, hedges its bets with forced humor, and can’t find a satisfying way to wrap things up. It’s a festival film, through and through, without a clear home going forward beyond this bastion for independent fare. Tribeca might be the beginning and end for this one.
Adam (Long) has been broken up with Allison (Cobie Smulders) for about two years now, so when she calls him out of the blue, it’s a shock to hear that she’s getting married to current beau Aaron. They were together for eight years and he still holds a candle for her. She wants to be friends and remembers a promise they made to each other that they’d be at each other’s weddings. Adam accepts the invitation, but immediately begins going into a tailspin. He impulsively proposes then breaks up with his current girlfriend Julie (Briga Heelan), then ignores advice from his buddy Mark (John Cho) to skip the nuptials. Once he’s there in San Francisco, it only gets worse.
While Adam may think that Allison has some need for him to be there, encounter after encounter proves just the opposite. Furthermore, he keeps hearing how amazing Aaron is. Between an awkward party/rehearsal dinner, an unfortunate choice of wedding date (Kristen Schaal), and the clear unresolved feelings, this is a nightmare for Adam. What’s his endgame? Is there one for Allison? Sadly, the film doesn’t quite have a satisfying answer to provide.
Far and away the best part of the film is Justin Long’s performance. While he’s his normally solid and reliable self comedically, he shines with the drama. There are consistent close-ups on his face and the absolute anguish he’s hiding is evident. The pain Adam has is palpable, which Long sells beautifully. If everything here was on Long’s level, this would be a Tribeca 2017 highlight. Alas, that’s not the case. There are solid supporting turns from the aforementioned Smulders (she is underutilized, however), and a cameo from Lea Thompson as Adam’s mom, but by and large, it’s all about Long.
Other folks on hand – besides previously mentioned John Cho, Briga Heelan and Kristen Schaal – mostly fade into the background. They include Peter Gallagher, Luis Guzmán, Charlotte McKinney, Charlyne Yi and more. If there’s an exception, it’s Dana Delaney as Allison’s mother. Unfortunately, her scene is cut short right as it’s getting interesting in the third act. Had more been done there, perhaps the end would have been more powerful and less flaccid.
Writer/director/composer Ryan Eggold might have a promising future, but “Literally, Right Before Aaron” isn’t quite a complete calling card. Tribeca often has dramedies like this, and they rarely stand out. Perfecting the drama and mucking up the comedy isn’t enough. Eggold really captures how it feels to see an ex fly while you free fall. He also consistently mistakes awkward irony for hilarity. It just sets up an unsatisfying final product. This is mostly due to inexperienced writing, as Eggold’s direction is solid enough. Credit to cinematographer Seamus Tierney for really going close in on Long’s face during some tougher scenes.
Overall, “Literally, Right Before Aaron” teases with individual moments while presenting a final product that can’t be fully embraced. If there’s a sense of frustration here, it’s partly due to the potential that this could have held. Long delivers, but he’s just not enough to save it all.