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The Answer Man

A Romantic Comedy Improved By Olivia Thirlby

About.com Rating 3 Star Rating


The Answer Man

Lauren Graham and Jeff Daniels in The Answer Man.

Magnolia Pictures
Olivia Thirlby is a delight in the romantic comedy The Answer Man. She's barely in the movie, it's true, but in one scene, the young actress is forced to wear a clunky stuffed spine costume outside of the Philadelphia chiropractor's office where she works. The weight of the outfit causes her to fall face down on the pavement and she can't regain standing without help.
Kat Dennings, another young actress with enormous potential, also has a supporting role in Answer Man. She plays a flaky clerk at a used bookstore. Alas, there is even less for Dennings to do; where Thirlby manages to evoke a laugh in every scene she appears in, Dennings is wasted. She even has a bad hair cut.

Lou Taylor Pucci is the third young cast member in Answer Man. He is, in fact, much too young to both manage a bookstore and be a recovering alcoholic, but that is what he does. He is desperately seeking answers, which brings us to our protagonist: Arlen Faber, played by Jeff Daniels.

The actual stars of Answer Man are Daniels and Lauren Graham. To be fair, Jeff Daniels is terrific in the lead role, playing a cranky writer who hides from the world after achieving mega success with a series of spiritual books that help ordinary people connect to God. Daniels does cranky incredibly well -- as he proved so wonderfully in Noah Baumbach's The Squid and the Whale . He's also a fine leading man, and if you need reminding, I highly recommend a return to Woody Allen's Purple Rose of Cairo, which is always a pleasure.

When the film begins, it's the twentieth anniversary of Faber's groundbreaking book. His agent (Nora Dunn) is desperately trying to get him out of hiding for the rerelease.

A Fine TV Movie, Made For The Big Screen

Lauren Graham, of Gilmore Girls infamy, plays Daniels' love interest, the chiropractor who blesses Faber with upright posture. I imagine she tried hard, but failed, here, to shake off the imprinted memory of Lorelai Gilmore, whom she personified for seven long years on television. As Elizabeth, a single mother who is fiercely protective of her kid, she's got the same mother bear instincts, the same long dark hair, the same dress style, even the same razor sharp delivery of lines.

It might be the Lauren Graham factor that tinged the over-all-affect of John Hindman's debut feature for me -- Answer Man is a pleasant and enjoyable film, easy to go down, and often wrong about details: perfect for network TV. It doesn't help that Buster from Arrested Development (Tony Hale) plays the mailman.

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