For me, there are two big issues with writer/director Peter Tolan's feature-length debut: some crazy, disconcerting tonal shifts and a crazy, disconcerting casting choice. There's also a third, less important issue adding to my perplexity about Finding Amanda which is that Matthew Broderick lifelessly sleepwalks through his role.
Tonally, the movie seems to have no idea what it wants to be and vacillates between screwball comedy, dark humor, high drama, and bleak character study. Sometimes, when you toss those elements into a bag and shake them up, you get something pretty cool. But in this case, it's not cool. In fact, it reminds me of sitting in a car while someone learns how to drive a stick shift, getting jerked around uncomfortably between gears the entire ride. The gear shifts in this movie are so jarring emotionally that it made me want to get the heck out of that car.
To see why I think Brittany Snow should never, ever play another prostitute, read more.
In the opening we meet Matthew Broderick's character, Taylor Peters, a TV writer who's working on a low-rated comedy. We quickly discover he's a bit of an industry loser due to his many addiction problems (drugs, alcohol, etc.). He's supposedly kicked most of these habits at the behest of his wife (played by Maura Tierney) — except for gambling on horse races. Throughout this entire setup, Broderick has some life in him, giving big puppy dog eyes to the camera as he lies to his wife about being at the tracks. All the while, bouncy music a la Curb Your Enthusiasm plays along in the background.
But things begin to unravel for Taylor when his wife threatens to leave him and in some strange attempt to prove his worth, he decides to save their niece Amanda (Snow) who is working as a prostitute in Vegas. This is about when things seriously unravel for the audience, too, because we are suddenly jerked into another gear when the bright eyed, sing-songy Amanda joyfully describes to her uncle in explicit detail the sexual acts she performs as a prostitute.
She also reveals a terribly shocking secret about her past, to which Broderick basically responds with a shrug.
Um, I never want to hear some of these words coming out of Snow's mouth again. It is like watching a Disney movie where suddenly the princess admits she was raped as a girl. It's icky, uncomfortable and completely outside of Snow's acting range. This is all even more disconcerting when Snow is directed to quit with the peppy "Hey, Uncle, I'm a happy hooker!" shtick and is breaking down in a bathroom stall. Her breakdown doesn't make you feel a thing besides "Wait. . .wha??"
On some level, this project could be seen as a valiant try. Maybe give it an "A" for effort because it's not unintelligent and there are some good laughs. But the execution is so poor and actors so off that it's hard to care about it one way or another.
Photos courtesy of Magnolia Pictures