Max (Keith Poulson) is in a perpetual state of arrested development. Max drifts along in his go-nowhere job as a waiter at a semi-classy restaurant, where he and his friend Sal (Nick Offerman) muse about where Max screwed up with his first wife (Kate Lyn Sheil) while Max pursues a new girl, Lyla (Jess Weixler). Byington charts Max's confusion over the course of many years, which involve affairs, divorce, business, success, and children, all with his pal Sal by his side to try and offer the occasional bit of insight or advice.
The film's core problem is shared by the screenplay and Poulson's performance. Although Poulson is probably just playing it the way Byington directs him to, Max's deadpan, emotionless personality makes him an extremely unlikable character. He is introduced in scenes with his mouth agape in a blank-faced daze, displays attitude toward the people who like him and want to help him, and frequently becomes frustrated at situations he himself has created, repeatedly and repeatedly avoiding chances to gain a sense of self-awareness. This wouldn't necessarily be bad in and of itself, but based on the film's gags, it's clear that viewer is meant to identify with Max, despite his total lack of sensitivity, tact, or maturity. In the world of Somebody Up There Likes Me, everything is a cosmic joke and nothing really matters, so why shouldn't Max be blessed with a little insight or enlightenment?
Worse, the conflict in Somebody Up There Likes Me is pretty muted. Max is certainly lost, but his goals never come into clearer focus than a vague question about the meaning of his life and what it is he's meant to do with it. Is he happy? If not, why not? Max doesn't know, and neither do we, watching as he ping-pongs from one job or relationship to another. In the second of the film's "chapters," despite a big house and a seemingly happy family, he stares longingly at his kid's sexy young babysitter, Clarissa (Stephanie Hunt) until he can no longer control himself. Before he knows it, he's back at his old job, living in a much smaller house, still looking at the horizon, without any real character development to show for it. To mask the wheel-spinning, Byington throws in comic scenes of Max dealing with oddball couples at the restaurant, or Sal arguing with the first customer at the pizza and ice cream food cart they open. Some of it is mildly amusing, but the comedy doesn't say anything about these people, it's just an additional layer on top of the film's minimal plot.
Directorially, the film is also grasping at straws. Animation is integrated into the live-action movie for no obvious reason and to no great effect, mainly appearing for transitions. It's also used to give a vague hint at the contents of a mysterious briefcase that Max carts around, occasionally glancing inside at unidentified contents that glow and appear to calm his nerves. The film also lazily (and somewhat confusingly) wraps around, starting with a scene set in the future, then jumping back to the beginning before making its way back to the final scene. The fact that the scene doesn't make any more sense or contain any more meaning on the second go-through is probably more than enough indication that Somebody Up There Likes Me falls short of its introspective goals.
The Video and Audio
Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is better than the picture, although like most independent comedies, this is a dialogue-heavy movie and the only real opportunity for surround activity comes from the use of poppy indie rock spread throughout the film, which are extremely bold and energetic. A few scenes exhibit a naturalistic ambience, but mostly this track just gets the job done without fanfare or flaws. No subtitles or captions are included.
The rest of the disc is rounded out by promo material. The first is a straightforward interview (3:00) with Nick Offerman. Heavy on clips and not particularly informative, but Offerman's comments feel honest, so that's something. There is also a funny promo (4:23) for the movie, or possibly for Offerman's woodshop, or maybe for weed, starring Offerman, Mullally, Hunt, plus Offerman's "Parks and Rec" co-stars Adam Scott, and Amy Poehler, and also Alison Brie, just for good measure. This is followed by interviews (2:13) with Brie and Scott, neither of whom are in the film.
Trailers for The Comedy, Supporting Characters, and War Witch play before the main menu.