Why Stop Now (**)

It’s hard to believe that Ron Nyswaner is the man responsible for both the screenplay for ‘Philadelphia’ and for co-writing and co-directing ‘Why Stop Now’, a rather bland dramedy that wastes Jesse Eisenberg. I’ve long come to realize that Melissa Leo’s choice of roles varies in quality wildly, but I’ve rarely seen her put to less use in the past few years than here. She’s hardly bad here, and in fact is pretty solid, but her time certainly could have been better spent than on this lifeless flick. My biggest issue is that this film has no idea what type of movie it wants to be, so it settles for just meandering about and wasting the audience’s time. Either a commitment to being a zany crime tinged comedy or a bittersweet drama about addiction would have helped things somewhat, though I doubt the movie could have been saved completely. Nyswaner, who co-wrote and co-directed the film with Phil Dorling, is capable of far better than this mediocrity, but the duo seems quite content to let Eisenberg and Leo drift in the wind. I will say that they do something a little interesting with Tracy Morgan, but he’s hardly a saving grace. The film opens on Friday, but I’m fairly certain it’ll come and go without much fuss. It’s honestly not particularly worth anyone’s time.

Eli (Eisenberg) is a troubled piano prodigy looking to nail an audition that very well may determine much of his future. His present, however, consists mostly of spending the day trying to dump his addict mother Penny (Leo) into rehab. He pretty much cares for her, along with his little sister. The plan for the day was to drop his sister off at school, then drop Penny at a clinic, before zooming off to presumably ace his audition and basically begin his professional career. The universe would never allow it to be so simply though, as the hitch begins with his mother not being admitted to the clinic since she’s clean at the moment (she’s uninsured, so the only way for her to get in is to essentially show up at their doorstep high). Desperate to get rid of Penny, Eli has her take him to her dealer to score and then gain entry. She brings him to her quirky guy Sprinkles (Morgan), but he’s currently out, leading to Eli heading off with him to make a big buy (Sprinkes’ contact only speaks Spanish, so he needs Eli to translate…conveniently he speaks the language). Things spiral out of control from there, but sadly it’s never that interesting.

About the only thing working for this flick are the performances by the actors in the three main roles, which are given more attention to than the project really deserved. Jessie Eisenberg is someone I always look forward to seeing in a movie, and he does his best here, but it’s in the service of an inferior film. The character isn’t especially well rounded, so Eisenberg needs to more or less get by on his screen persona, which he does to an extent…it’s just not enough. I don’t blame Eisenberg though, just like I don’t blame Melissa Leo or Tracy Morgan. Leo isn’t the pickiest actress on the planet, but she always brings something unique to her roles, whether they’re bigger projects like ‘The Fighter’, smaller ones like ‘Red State’, or even this one. Again though, this is a pretty mediocre film, and she’s saddled with your standard indie film druggie mom. She’s charming at times, but she can’t save the movie. As for Morgan, he tones down his wild antics somewhat, and it helps things along, but once again…the character is just lacking. The supporting players include Emma Rayne Lyle, Stephanie March, Sarah Ramos, Isiah Whitlock Jr., and Tanya Wright, but they’re not given much to do either.

Ron Nyswaner is a good screenwriter, but the evidence here suggests that he’s not an especially good director. Along with Phil Dorling, they’ve co-written and co-directed a lifeless film that suggests an energy that it never actually presents. There was potential here, but it’s not nearly enough for a movie to be potentially interesting with potentially intriguing characters. It’s just a missed opportunity. Perhaps a director with a little more style could have covered up some of the flaws, but this is a problematic flick any way that you slice it. At the very least, a tighter script was needed.

In the end, my biggest problem with ‘Why Stop Now’ is that it doesn’t offer up anything to an audience member. The film wastes its cast, doesn’t present an effectively told story, and just bores you with its mediocrity. I had actually been looking forward to this one based on a few early words out of Sundance, but I was very much let down. When the flick opens on Friday, I expect those of you who go to see it to feel the same way. A better idea is just not to bother and move on with your life.

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!