When a prep-school classmate dies, a graduate student past his sell-by date must face his escalating anxiety over growing up.
After lightly eviscerating the life of a suburban housewife in his fiction debut, Schuster (The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom and Party Girl, 2009) turns his attention to the wilderness years of 20-somethings in Philly. Grad student Charley is elbow-deep in wallpapering with his wife Karen when a phone call idly informs him that Billy Chin, a former classmate from Saint Leonard’s Academy, committed suicide by leaping off a local bridge. It’s quite the wake-up call for a young man mired in the quicksand of his dissertation and a dead-end job promoting a bank in a giant dollar-sign costume. In a neat metaphor, he’s regularly blown off his feet by passing semis. This means we often learn more about Charley’s unstable personality through internal monologues and cell conversations inside the suit than during the Hamlet-esque paralysis of his life. To assuage his fears, Charley calls his Marx Brothers-quoting best friend Neil Pogue and their gang of comrades from Saint Leonard’s to dream up a tribute to their fallen friend. Five bills in hand, Charley reacquaints himself with former teacher Phil Ennis, now the school’s greed-motivated, self-important development director. Charley’s lack of backbone lets old rival Frank Dearborn turn what was intended to be a tasteful tribute to Billy into a garish festival complete with performance art. Charley is not a nice guy but his spiraling tumble into self-awareness is a wince-worthy exercise in sympathy. “All because I refused to do anything,” Charley admits. “Because doing something meant change. Because change meant growing up. Because growing up meant leaving so much behind.”
Schuster’s off-kilter portrait of a guy unsatisfied like the old Replacements song adds pivotal bite to the pre-programmed humor of his ensemble.