Josh Boone’s directorial debut about a family of writers damaged by the consequence of love is obviously no light affair. The opening monologue, delivered deadpan by a seemingly uncaring Lily Collins (spoiler, she cares really), about the disposability of love and the realities of fast sex, lulls you into 97 minutes of bleak speculation and angst.
Greg Kinnear is William Borgens, the moping single father of prodigy children Samantha (Collins) and Rusty (Nat Wolff), living in the shell of his abandoned marriage as ex-wife Erica (Jennifer Connelly) frolicks with her new gym owner beau. Restless and sad, he gets by channelling his talent for writing through his offspring and engaging in a meandering fling with his married neighbour (an underused Kristen Bell).
It’s all horribly familiar. Each of the Borgens has baggage; Sam’s cold outlook on romance (based on her parents’ separation) opposes her brother’s wide-eyed virginity, while their mother is the adulteress with a heart. All communicate through voicing passages of their preferred authors, both to each other and anyone in their company, and while this may be Boone’s homage to his favourite verses, it feels artificial and haughty.
Love interests bring further complications; Rusty’s high school sweetheart has substance abuse issues while a cheeky Lou (Logan Lerman) tries to battle with Samantha’s insecurities while his mother battles cancer.
If Boone wasn’t trying so hard to swathe his characters in attractive flaws and literary escapism, this would be fine as a dark family comedy. Nat Wolff as Rusty is spared the self-indulgent outbursts of the others and is the most likeable as a result, desperately trying to keep up with the expectations of his family by dabbling in juvenile behaviour before stumbling tearfully into the throes of his girlfriend’s addiction.
Otherwise, this is a collective that struggles to invoke sympathy. Erica’s inability to accept the consequences of her infidelity don’t make her an agreeable character while Samantha’s confrontational nature sours quickly.
There’s promise in the Borgen set-up but Boone’s handling of them as individual characters lacks empathy which for a family-based film is trouble.