by Lauren McBride
Bob Byington’s Somebody Up There Likes Me covers about 20 years in the life of Max Youngman (Keith Poulson). Through marriages, divorces, the loss of parents and birth of children, Max doesn’t seem to mature — physically or mentally. He is eternally in his late-twenties, gawky, awkward and much like the film itself, meandering without a destination.
We meet Max peering into a mysterious blue suitcase and driving toward the end of his first marriage. Wives and mistresses come and go; even his best friend Sal (Nick Offerman) matures and greys. But Max and his suitcase go on. The suitcase, which contains far more than the music and floating animations the audience sees each time it is opened, is the only constant thing in Max’s life. Its origins are unknown, as is its meaning to Max. He keeps it stuffed in trunks and closets, but it is undoubtedly magical — perhaps the secret to his eternal youth.
Max’s suitcase and its mysterious contents bring an air of whimsy to the film. The film’s bright colors and intermittent animations sharply contrast its characters’ darkness. Their selfishness and meanness seems absurd in the pretty world that Byington creates. That the story unfolds in a nameless American town makes it even more fantastical. Less film than fable.
The film has winning moments, often thanks to Offerman’s comedic timing and Jess Weixler’s masterful ability to be adorably awkward. As a whole, however, it lacks meaning and direction. And for such a brief film (with a runtime of only 76 minutes), it feels tedious and unending. Of course this could be intentional; Byington’s attempt to mirror that experience we all have in common: life.