“Welcome to the Larry/Schwartzman show.”
If you think that the title suggests some sort of a thrilling martial art film or a Tarantino-esque action drama, then you are entirely wrong. Bob Byington borrows 7 Chinese Brothers from the 1984 R.E.M. song which plays over the film’s credits. While the song is about brotherly love, selfless friendship and greed that test the two, the feature is nothing about them, or perhaps just indiscernible nuances. Nonetheless, this slacker comedy is a character study of a crappy sluggard who needs to put some sense in his aimless life.
The film is set in an obscure neighborhood in Austin, Texas. Thirty-something Larry (Jason Schwartzman) has just got fired from the restaurant he is working in after being caught on cam stealing someone else’s tips. Disgruntled, Larry leaves, pinches a bottle of tequila from the bar as separation fee and keys a co-worker’s car. Other than consistently lying, Larry spends most of his time engaging in one-sided chat with his tolerant sleepy-head French bulldog (the actor’s real-life pet Arrow) or getting high with pills scored from his only friend, Major Norwood (Tunde Adebimpe). Incidentally, Major is one of the staffs working in the nursing home where Larry’s grandma (Olympia Dukakis) stays. While grandma enjoys Larry’s presence despite that he only comes around when he runs short of cash, she has also become fond of Major.
After servicing his car to Quick Lube, Larry immediately lands a job in the shop by vacuuming out automobiles. Though bullied by his fellow employees, he surprisingly loves his work and does not want to get fired, possibly because he has developed a crush for his single-mom and attractive manager, Lupe (Eleanore Pienta). Sadly, Lupe is more interested with Major. And with the sudden death of his grandma, the only surviving relative he has known, Larry will have to make life-changing decisions.
Typical of most character study pictures, 7 Chinese Brothers is naturally sluggish and wittily directionless. It feels like drifting idly by, letting things happen easily and comfortably. It is full of interesting and amusing characters. Larry’s former boss and oafish colleague are absurdly hilarious. Instead of exacting their revenge by devastating Larry’s house and harming Arrow, they piss on his bathroom floor and write “FAT” on the pug’s framed picture. Larry’s grandma is a likable presence, made even more adoring by Dukakis’ punchy delivery. Worn and old, she never backs down in brawling with her only grandson. Some sort of a chick magnet, Major Norwood is an affectionate character. With the windfall that happens to him by the end of the film, he remains a humble and empathetic person. Thanks to Adebimpe’s solid performance.
Undeniably, Larry is the star of the show as he appears in every scene. He is an untrustworthy worker with no passion for doing anything. He is unsympathetic towards others, throws hats at random passing cars and has no friends except his own pet and Norwood. He is an unambitious, lousy and dense individual. He whines endlessly even when nobody is listening or none cares about what he is saying. But despite everything, Larry is an engaging and enjoyable figure, possibly because Schwartzman, with his tired look and uneasy charisma, brings effortlessly the pains and desperation in his hazy character. It feels as if Larry has been custom-fitted exactly for him. Schwartzman’s bulldog Arrow deserves a special mention. Considering how he raises his eyebrows or acts tolerant with his master’s endless patter, he is a breakout star.
Everyone is capable of changing and so does Larry. He might have met the girl in his dream (his manager), but then he simply does nothing, waits for his luck, hoping that something may happen. He suffers the loss of loved one (grandma’s death) and he is left with nothing but a car. Reality finally stings and in little heart-warming ways, he clears the clutter in his life and proves he can be a decent person.
In general, 7 Chinese Brothers has an offbeat narrative premise but it lacks enough energy and momentum to sustain attention. Yet, Larry and Arrow are entertaining characters and they can hold off interest. Just enjoy their interactions and don’t concern yourself about where they are heading to.
Production companies: Faliro House, 8750 Films
Cast: Jason Schwartzman, Tunde Adebimpe, Eleanore Pienta, Stephen Root, Olympia Dukakis
Director-Screenwriter: Bob Byington
Producers: Molly Christie Benson, Seana Flanagan, Nancy Schafer
Executive producers: Christos Konstantakopoulos, Kevin Corrigan
Director of photography: Adam Ginsberg
Production designer: Jake Kuykendall
Costume designer: Lily Walker
Editor: Leah Marino
Music: Chris Baio