Writer-director Chris D’Arienzo, adapting Frank Turner Hollon’s comic novel, aims for an offbeat yet heartfelt take on a man’s search for meaning after losing the only two meaningful things in his life: his testicles. “Barry Munday’s” namesake dimwit fancies himself a ladies’ man, hitting on every ready and willing female who crosses his path. That is, until the day he gets his testicles crushed by the outraged, trumpet-wielding father of one potential conquest.
His testicles damaged beyond repair, doctors promptly remove them, leaving Barry in a terrible existential and sexual funk. His spirits pick up, however, when a young woman, Ginger Farley (Judy Greer), notifies him that she’s pregnant with his child, and sues him for paternity. The befuddled Barry has no memory of his and Ginger’s sexual encounter, but news of possible fatherhood offer redemption, a sense that his seed has left behind a legacy and there’s hope for the future after all.
But Barry’s efforts to be involved with Ginger’s pregnancy hit roadblocks when Ginger turns out to be a disdainful sourpuss with intimidating parents (Malcolm McDowell and Cybill Shepherd) and a spitfire of a sister (Chloë Svigney) who persists in trying to sabotage Barry’s goodwill with her sexual advances.
Barry’s only respite comes from his warm relationship with his headstrong mother, Carol (Jean Smart, in a finely balanced seriocomic performance). Having grown up without a father, it’s clear that Barry’s inherent sweetness comes from his mother’s nurturing. Indeed, their relationship is among “Munday’s” core strengths, as D’Arienzo gives Smart and Wilson room to develop a convincing mother-son rapport.
Gradually, Ginger’s resistance to Barry drops away, and the couple prepares for the home birth that she insists on. Incidentally, “Barry Munday’s” birthing scene ranks alongside the “insemination party” from this year’s other paternity-themed dud “The Switch” as two of the most idiotic to be thought up for movies about conception and childbirth.
Ginger’s home birth involves her squatting in a wading pool set up in her a living room, screaming and pushing away while a midwife and virtually the entire cast of the movie (including the family priest) stand poolside egging her on as if they’re at a horserace. The scene is junk because it has no bearing in emotional or dramatic truth – something D’Arienzo, in the movie’s press notes, claims as his guiding mantra – and because none of these characters, given their histories and dynamics, would ever find themselves in such scene together. Not a single detail in this scene rings true; this core event in Barry and Ginger’s lives is played for contrived, dishonest laughs. The resulting response, at the screening I attended anyway, was a heavy, awkward silence.
D’Arienzo’s screenplay and direction goes for a cross between naturalism and absurdity, but it’s largely a queasy, oil-and-water blend. His slow-burn comic timing never lives up to his scenes’ “ha-ha” moments, which usually come in the form of dopey looks, unfunny put-downs and tired observations. Greer’s performance, like most others’ in the cast, never rises above a script that draws its characters in broad strokes, and her toneless delivery and frumpy demeanor outstay their first-act welcome.
The bright and versatile Wilson again proves his worth as both a comic and dramatic presence. He’s spent several years now honing his on-screen persona in a variety of roles, but in largely subpar fare like “Hard Candy,” “Little Children,” the aforementioned “The Switch,” and now this. In surer hands, he may yet find a role and a project worthy of his talents.
Directed by: Chris D’Arienzo
Written by: Chris D’Arienzo
Cast: Patrick Wilson, Judy Greer, Shea Whigham, Jean Smart, Malcom McDowell, Chloë Svigney, Billy Dee Williams, Mae Whitman, Cybill Shepherd