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Finding Amanda
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Save Ferris From Himself!"
2 stars

“Finding Amanda” is a film that asks us to laugh at things that would not strike most people as viable subjects for humor, such as addictions to booze, drugs and gambling, personal and professional unhappiness and the kind of exquisite joy that can only come from discovering that your niece is working as a prostitute in the lesser casinos of Las Vegas. This isn’t necessarily a problem in and of itself--I have seen comedies about murder, suicide, war and nuclear annihilation and have laughed myself silly at all of them--but for a comedy to succeed with this kind of subject matter, it needs to find the right tone and attitude so that the humor can come through. “Finding Amanda” never finds the right tone or attitude and as a result, we are left with an alleged comedy that is so grim and unpleasant that you have to wonder what could have possibly gone through the minds of the actors and the financiers when they read the script and decided to sign on.

The film stars Matthew Broderick as Taylor Peters, a once-powerful television writer whose career and marriage were both nearly destroyed thanks to his addictions to booze, drugs and the racetrack. Although he is trying to rebuild both--he is working on a crappy sitcom in order to restart his career and allows his wife (Maura Tierney) to control every aspect of their finances (to the point where he is not allowed to carry a credit card or checkbook) --he is not entirely successful; he makes his contempt for the show known to virtually everyone and while he has kept the illicit at bay, he still slips off to the track in the afternoons to throw away more money on losing bets. After one such excursion (which his wife finds out about), Taylor learns that his niece, Amanda (Brittany Snow), has gone off to Vegas and is now working as a hooker to make ends meet. Naturally, her family is appalled and they want to get her out of that environment and into rehab and Taylor volunteers to go out there and convince her to leave--partly to help save his niece from her sordid existence, partly to help patch things up with his now-furious wife and partly to break free of his now-stultifying existence for a few days in order to prove to himself that he can be in a place like Vegas without once again succumbing to all of his demons.

That last bit of determination falls apart virtually the second that he arrives in town--perhaps not that surprising when you are still on a first-name basis with the staff at your favorite Vegas hotel even though it has been more than a year since your last visit--and he almost immediately finds himself back in the casino playing the ponies. Eventually, he does manage to tear himself away from the tables and track down Amanda but when he does, he discovers that she is not only a hooker, she makes Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman” seem like Theresa Russell in “Whore” by comparison--she is relentlessly chipper and cheerful (even when she nonchalantly remarks “Then my father‘s brother started raping me“), lives in a nicely appointed home that she purchased with her own money and though she does buy drugs, she really and truly is doing it for a friend and even makes sure to give her smaller doses each time in order to get her off of the stuff. Outside of her inexplicable devotion to her rotter boyfriend (Peter Facinelli), there doesn’t seem to be a single thing wrong with her outside of her choice of profession and she certainly doesn’t feel that she is need of rehab for anything. Ironically, in his efforts to convince her that she does require treatment, Taylor winds up falling victim to all of his old habits and is soon loaded up on booze and Ecstasy while losing thousands and thousands of dollars of money he doesn’t have, not to mention his job and wife.

“Finding Amanda” was written and directed by Peter Tolan, a man who has one of the more strangely schizoid filmography in recent memory. For television, he wrote and produced two of the darkest and most caustic comedies to ever appear on the small screen in the late, great “The Larry Sanders Show” and “Rescue Me” while his efforts for the big screen have included the screenplays for such brain-dead silliness as “What Planet Are You From?,” “America’s Sweethearts,” “Stealing Harvard,” “Guess Who” and the utterly loathsome “Just Like Heaven.” With this film, for which he made his directorial debut, Tolan seems to be going for a cross between his two basic approaches and while I suppose that it is a relatively daring move for a first-timer to take, it simply doesn’t work here as they wind up clashing instead of complementing each other. He never finds a handle for the darker material and as a result, those scenes wind up inspiring uncomfortable silences instead of uncomfortable laughs. As for the broader material, it doesn’t quite work either because its presence comes across as weirdly off-putting in juxtaposition to the darker stuff and because the stuff involving Broderick spiraling out of control at the hands of an ambitious young blonde comes across as a lesser version of the stuff that he did in the truly brilliant and hilarious “Election.” And no matter which approach he is deploying, Tolan has no real sense of pace or timing as a director and too many scenes just flop around without any real sense of energy to drive them along.

The inability to blend the silly and the sardonic is the biggest flaw befalling “Finding Amanda” but it is by no means the only one. For one thing, the central conceit of the film--that uncle and niece are both prostitutes in their own way and that the only difference between them is that only one of them is willing to admit it to themselves--is spelled out for us in big red letters early on but Tolan keeps hammering it home until you want to beg him to relent. Another flaw is that neither Broderick nor Snow are especially convincing in their roles--the former never makes you feel the desperation that his character must be going through and the latter goes so overboard in presenting her character as the most fresh-faced and upbeat prostitute imaginable that when she does have the occasional dark moment or two towards the end, they come across more like screenplay contrivances (which they are) than signs of a complex personality. And yes, the film also traffics in a cliché that I have grown increasingly weary of over the years by saddling its sweet-natured heroine with such a one-dimensional monster for a boyfriend--all it does is make her seem like an idiot for defending his indefensible behavior and when she finally does stand up to him, the moment is so arbitrary that you get the sense that the only reason that she has come to her sense is because she knows that she is in a movie and that she has to have some kind of epiphany because the end credits are fast approaching.

It is a funny thing about dark comedy--when it works, it really works but when it doesn’t work, it really doesn’t work. “Finding Amanda,” as you may have guessed, is an example of the latter. It does have some ambition behind it as well as a desire to do something different but as the film proves, ambition and desire don’t really mean much if you don’t have the skills to back them up. Essentially, “Finding Amanda” is little more than what “Hardcore” might have been like if it had been rewritten by the author of a dirty joke book--an idea that, come to think of it, is actually more amusing than anything on display here.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17513&reviewer=389
originally posted: 06/27/08 00:24:05
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User Comments

5/26/11 art DEPRESSING,TIME WASTER! 1 stars
8/16/08 George Barksdale Not one of Matthew Broderick best 2 stars
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  27-Jun-2008 (R)
  DVD: 16-Sep-2008


  DVD: 16-Sep-2008

Directed by
  Peter Tolan

Written by
  Peter Tolan

  Matthew Broderick
  Brittany Snow
  Peter Facinelli
  Maura Tierney
  Daniel Roebuck

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