Mr. Jealousy (Baumbach, 1997)

A fitting stepping stone between Baumbach’s lone masterpiece Kicking and Screaming and his later critical success The Squid and the Whale, Mr. Jealousy harbors both an obsession with post graduate malaise and a droll tone toward overcoming insecurities. But the story, which pits Eric Stoltz’s benignly jealous writer with Annabella Sciorra’s clumsy p.h.d. student, feels light on chemistry and in turn romantic weight. Baumbach uses an unseen narrator often to express motivation and context (a slippery slope in movies), and the results are mixed at best. While clever at times, this technique takes away the character’s voices, instilling the director’s overbearing influence on the fluffy proceedings. Mr. Jealousy feels like a Woody Allen impersonation without the creativity and punch, but it does produce countless laughs thanks to the witty writing and overall good performances. Baumbach’s best work is defined by his protagonist’s slow evolution from the gallows of hopeless self pity to the heights of life-affirming confidence, and Mr. Jealousy doesn’t quite reach far enough in either direction.

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