Now on Blu-ray: The Touching Tale of Grief and Male Bonding in ‘Joshy’

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Joshy Blu-ray

Earlier this year, I started watching Joshy, the new movie from writer-director Jeff Baena, with a bit of apprehension, fearing that it might just be another bit of middling mumblecore filmmaking. If anything, Joshy proved just how wrong preconceived notions about movies can be, as it turned out to be a funny little movie with a strong emotional undercurrent. Revisiting the film for its Blu-ray release, I was once again struck with how well Baena and his talented cast craft a story about grief and male bonding in the face of trying times in one of the most pleasant cinematic surprises of the year.

The film opens with Josh (Thomas Middleditch) coming home from work to his girlfriend Rachel (Alison Brie). They discuss their plans for his birthday, and as Josh goes to the gym for a workout Rachel prepares dinner and makes phone calls. But Joshy isn’t the kind of movie that follows expectations – Baena is quick to pull the rug out from under you as Josh comes home to discover that Rachel has hung herself with one of his belts. Four months later and Josh is still grieving, but the cabin in Ojai where he planned to have his bachelor party is still rented out for the weekend. Josh’s good friends Ari (Adam Pally) and Adam (Alex Ross Perry) meet him in the cabin, and are eventually met by Eric (Nick Kroll), who used to live in the same building as Josh. Eric even takes things a step further by inviting his friend Greg (Brett Gelman) to join their weekend party.

Each of these characters have distinct personalities, and this causes a number of clashes over the weekend. Adam is an intensely neurotic person who only wants to play an intricate board game as a means to distract Josh from his grief. Alex Ross Perry conveys these neuroses in an effortless manner, his Adam always wanting to shy away from the drunken debauchery and mourn the ending of his ten-year relationship. Ari is also in the midst of a romantic crisis, and that’s amplified when he meets the charming young Jodi (Jenny Slate) at a local bar, the two hitting it off immediately. Eric is the ringleader for the partying, always willing to provide coke and stripper to compliment his bombastic personality as his good friend Greg is more than willing to go along. Meanwhile, Middleditch’s Josh is often quiet and somber, taking to the bottle to ease the pain of loss.

Many of the film’s laughs come from the clashing personalities, especially the bickering between the bombastic performance by Nick Kroll and the neurotic mannerisms of Alex Ross Perry. In a brief role, mumblecore auteur Joe Swanberg delivers a rage-fueled performance that works impeccably against Kroll’s hard partying Eric. For every moment of clashing personalities that garner laughter, there are just as many where the clashes underscore the mournful emotional content of Joshy. This all culminates in a heartbreaking scene towards the end where Josh is confronted by Rachel’s grieving parents (played by Paul Reiser and Lisa Edelstein) where they accuse him of murdering Rachel. It’s a powerful moment that is buoyed by the strength of Middleditch’s performance. You can feel his pain at these unfounded allegations.

The lone special feature on the Blu-ray of Joshy is audio commentary with writer-director Jeff Baena and stars Thomas Middleditch and Adam Pally. It’s a lively commentary that is obviously just three friends shooting the shit and talking about a low budget movie that their very proud of. Watching the film there is a sense that improv played a significant role in the film, but the commentary informs viewers that a vast majority of the film is improvised – they only had about a 20-page outline by Baena to work off of. All of which makes Joshy even more impressive. Most movies so rooted in improvisation have a tendency to have scenes run too long or just ramble in circles. Joshy is very lean and focused in the manner with which its story unfolds, something so rare in a movie dependent on improv that it really is a testament to the skills of Baena to wrangle all the elements into a coherent, touching, and funny movie.

Joshy is a wonderful little movie that often defies expectations for the better throughout its 90-minute running time. Jeff Baena has crafted a movie that never loses sight of its larger themes of grief and male bonding despite the reliance on improvisation. The manner with which Joshy was constructed leaves the potential for a lot of traps that it could fall into, and yet Baena, Middleditch, and the rest of the talented cast avoid each and every one. The film has heart, humor, and strong performances all over. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Joshy is one of the most pleasant surprises of the year.

Joshy
  • Overall Score
3.5

Summary

Joshy is a sharp little movie that blends comedy and drama with ease as its explores the themes of male bonding and grief in a pleasant surprise of a movie.

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