What can one say when a great performance is lost on a film so enamored with itself that it becomes less and less endearing from scene to scene, finally burying any good graces it may have had?
The answer? An unfortunate negative take on the new comedy, “Lazy Susan.”
Sean Hayes is the unambitious Susan O’Connell. Susan can’t hold down a job nor do what it takes to find one and has been living off the good financial graces of her mother and brother for too many years.
At her mother’s birthday gathering, Susan’s brother and mother inform her that the free money is stopping. They rightly argue (but with the wrong approach, as they come at her under the guise of Christian values) that, at middle age, it is past time for Susan to take care of herself. This sets Susan into a self-discovery tailspin of sorts, as she tries to figure out how to find the strength (interest?) to get her out there and better herself.
Susan’s life and the film’s design are painted in the sort of small-town kitsch that is so prominent in the Wisconsin area where it takes place. The colors are bright and the gaudy floral designs on Susan’s homemade collages, drapes and outfits strive for a John Waters-esque aura. If only the filmmakers could’ve found that Waters magic.
The great Allison Janney is sadly wasted playing Susan’s “frenemy” Velvet, a hypocritically judgmental woman who points fingers at other’s lifestyles while taking her job as a supervisor at K-Mart much too seriously. The usually Oscar-worthy (and Oscar winning!) Janney is saddled with nothing dialogue and nowhere to go.
Margo Martindale plays Susan’s mother with her usual seamlessness. The actress has a talent for channeling the middle-to-lower class attitudes of women in their fifties and sixties. Martindale can do comedy or drama and makes every performance relatable and real. She does well here but this film doesn’t properly tap into her potential, nor does it give the actress the material to really dig in and allow her performance to breathe. The filmmakers use her as mere cliché.
For a short time, Jim Rash brings a little life to this film as Phil, a goofy but seemingly nice man who owns a string of local bounce houses and seems to really care for Susan. Phil brightens her stale life (and our movie) if only for a while, until he, too, becomes a cliché.
By the time Matthew Broderick shows up in the film’s final half hour, it’s much too late for an actor of his talent to save this patient. Besides the fact that Broderick is given only one short scene that anyone could’ve played. Sure, it’s a cameo but when having big actors make an appearance in your film, give them something to do that’s worth remembering.
Send-ups of suburbia are a dime a dozen. Filmmakers from Jonathan Kaplan to Tim Burton to Todd Solondz have put their unique spins on the absurdity and banality of life in the suburbs. Director Nick Peet does absolutely nothing new here.
We are treated to nosy and annoying neighbors with that trusty cliché of “once we actually speak to them, they are actually real human beings worth knowing.” Yes, we’ve seen it all before and much better.
The screenplay was written by Peet, Hayes and Carrie Aizley who also plays Susan’s best friend. It’s admirable that the writers took great care in crafting the character of Susan, as she is the only note of interest or originality in their film. Their insights to suburban life and fractured families have nothing new to offer. Their messages are too obvious, and their humor is flat.
Sean Hayes is a true delight as Susan. This is as committed a performance as the actor has ever given.
The fact that Hayes is playing a woman is no gimmick. He gives the character a heart when the film tries its hardest to make her unlikable. The actor won’t let us dislike Susan, no matter how self-serving she may be.
Susan is lazy in everything she does. When she is at home, Hayes makes a face every time Susan has to move. Merely walking around her apartment is annoying to Susan.
Hayes infuses the character with humor but just enough and he never goes too broad. We laugh when Susan pours a ketchup packet in her belly button to dip her fries in so she doesn’t have to get up and get a plate. When she is having sex with Phil, he asks if she would like to be on top. After thinking for a moment, Susan answers, “Nah.” This is one lazy Susan!
While Hayes is great, it is the film that lets him down.
“Lazy Susan” is, at best, a film that begins tepid and eventually sinks into a bland nothingness by the end. With all its colors and bouncy pop song choices, Nick Peet’s direction holds no energy. With a flat script and aimless direction, Sean Hayes is the only saving grace to this lackluster and obvious film.