Today, Eli (Jesse Eisenberg) only has three things on his to-do list: take his little sister Nicole (Emma Rayne Lyle) to school, drop his mother Penny (Melissa Leo) off at drug rehab, and make it up to Boston in time for his audition to a music conservatory. On the second step, however, he finds himself delayed when the rehab center won't take a woman with no insurance and clean urine, so he and his mother head to see her dealer, Sprinkles (Tracy Morgan), for a quick qualifying fix.
Much like Goats, Why Stop Now manages breaking even my very high tolerance for unlikable characters, albeit to a much lesser extent. Eli becomes more likable as the film goes on, and there's also a sense that even if Eisenberg is not the wrong guy for the part, he is a casting choice that emphasizes the aspects of the character that are obnoxious, and in the most obnoxious way possible. Still, what is the audience supposed to make of Eli when he's introduced as an alcoholic, party-wrecking, impatient jerk who bosses his mother around (regardless of whatever addiction she might have). As Eisenebrg delivers his lines with trademark breathlessness and bite, it only widens the gap between Eli and sympathy for his situation.
On the other hand, at least Eli has a bit of a character -- reticent and impatient, but also intelligent, mostly good under pressure, and the glue holding his family together. Poor Melissa Leo is left hanging in the wind, grasping at anything she can to help flesh out her anemic role. Aside from a long-standing grudge against her richer, more successful sister, Penny is just "vaguely frazzled," and Leo is never quite able to narrow the characterization down. Penny's train wreck status throughout the entire movie feels odd whenever the viewer is reminded that this is what she's like when she's clean and sober, and although one might guess that someone who's exasperating off of drugs is even more of a pain when they're high, that's logic talking, not the movie.
When Eli and Penny get to Sprinkles' place, they learn he's out of drugs. Accompanied by Sprinkles' right-hand man Black (Isiah Whitlock Jr.), the four head to meet Eduardo (Paul Calderon), Sprinkles' distributor. Eli serves as translator, because Sprinkles doesn't speak Spanish (no explanation of how they do business when Eli is not there), and they're told to wait for Eduardo to call them back when he's ready, forcing Sprinkles and Black to hang around with Eli and Penny all day while they wait for the call. Morgan is actually arguably the highlight of the movie, investing his character with some emotional weight. Sprinkles was once a track star with dreams of bigger things than drug dealing; his reaction to seeing the team trophy he helped win but never got a chance to hold is actually kind of touching.
Why Stop Now builds to several explosions on Eli's behalf, the most crucial of them occurring at Penny's sister's place, in which Eli really lets loose on everyone in his family. Although the tone seems as if it's meant to be half comedic, every "shut the fuck up" in his extensive, bitter speech directed at his mother or his aunt is indicative of the movie's confused goals. Directing and writing team Philip Dorling and Ron Nyswaner fail to establish the movie in an environment where Eli's outburst could be viewed as funny, and don't seem interested in making a straight drama. It's a carnival of exasperation and frustration the the filmmakers peer in on, and from that distance, spending time with Eli and Penny on their road to reconciliation is not an appealing prospect. In retrospect, the title seems almost desperate.
Faces and text. Why Stop Now gets an effortless cover, in the worst sense of the word. At least they separate the names from the photos. The disc comes in a standard Blu-Ray case, and there is no insert.
The Video and Audio
IFC's 1080p 2.35:1 AVC presentation of Why Stop Now is pretty problematic. Although grain is wonderfully rendered, banding is a significant issue in any sort of shading or fades to and from black. Curves in the faces of people can turn into unnatural, distinctly-defined blobs of color rather than a natural gradient along the skin. Fine detail is okay, but the image is naturally soft and the contrast appears somewhat flattened (whites are never pure white), robbing the picture of much depth. Most of these issues probably come from the original photography, but it still doesn't make for an appealing-looking HD transfer.
Audio is a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which surprisingly gets a fair amount of workout from the movie. Piano in performance halls, crowded restaurants, and the interiors of several homes have a nice evocative richness. A Civil War re-enactment also provides some surprise opportunity for gunfire and chaos. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing and Spanish subtitles are also provided.
A mostly subdued Tracy Morgan Interview (7:16, SD) and a super-promotional featurette (2:54, HD) are included. The featurette is packed with clips from the movie and a couple slivers of the content from the individual interview, so I guess if you only had 8 minutes to watch extras, watch the interview, which has a couple of interestingly personal nuggets in it, even if Morgan seems deeply disinterested in the interview process. In looking up Dorling and Nyswaner on IMDb, I noticed they made a short film in 2008 called Predisposed, with Eisenberg and Leo in their roles as Eli and Penny, and someone named Joseph Jones playing Sprinkles. Why that wasn't included is a mystery, but it sounds like it'd be a better extra than what's here.
Trailers for Your Sister's Sister, Liberal Arts, Sleepwalk With Me, and About Cherry play before the main menu. An original theatrical trailer for Why Stop Now is also included.
Why Stop Now answers its own question by failing to invest us in its characters before pulling their ripcords and letting them go to town on each other's throats. It's not a complete failure: Morgan is great in a well-realized role, and Eisenberg is strong in an ill-fitting one, but overall, joining this journey seems like more hassle than it's worth. Rent it, if you must.
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