Review: Answers To Nothing

daniel cohen reviews the dramatic film starring Dane Cook …

Plot: Intertwining stories about people with deep personal flaws, desperately trying to better themselves while set against the backdrop of a child kidnapping.

Answers To Nothing can be considered one of the best bargains of the year, as it’s about eight movies rolled into one. In the vain of Crash or Traffic, it’s a film that bounces around a plethora of screwed up people. We’ve got infidelity, isolation, recovering alcoholics, kidnapping, self-hating African Americans … it’s all here! Come on down! The problem with Answers To Nothing is that unlike those other films, there is no thread connecting them. Sure, some of these characters float into another person’s story here and there, but there’s no underlying theme. Yes, all these people have issues, and they are all trying to sort out those issues, but that’s a vague theme, and it makes for lazy writing.

Barbara Hershey as Marilyn and Dane Cook as Ryan in Answers To Nothing, directed by Matthew Leutwyler.
Photo: David Jones

Let’s look at a recent ‘intertwining stories’ example: Contagion. Contagion had even more people than this film did, and most of those characters didn’t even cross paths. But why does it work? The film had one central plot: a virus. It explores how this virus affects different people in different situations. In Answers to Nothing, they try and have this kidnapping case be that central theme, but three of the main storylines have absolutely nothing to do with it. This movie really feels like a bunch of short films. Now to the film’s credit, these ‘short films’ are engaging, and coupled with some really strong performances.

Dane Cook plays Ryan, and he’s kind of the de-facto protagonist of the film. It’s his character that deals with a lot of fractured relationships. While Cook has plenty of moments of levity, this is a very isolated guy, which Cook conveys perfectly. He’s especially great with Elizabeth Mitchell, who plays his wife Kate. There’s a severe disconnect between the two, and even though they barely say anything to each other, their scenes definitely hold a lot of tension. My favorite scene though is between Ryan and his mother Marilyn, played by Barbara Hershey. The dialogue is fairly compelling, as the mother and son call out each other’s flaws. While it’s not a screaming match, it’s still an intense moment.

Photo: David Jones

One of my other favorite performances was Kali Hawk as Allegra, one of Ryan’s patients. Her character is where the script really shines. Her dialogue is a perfect blend of humor and unease. Allegra is a self-hating African American, but wants to get better. This was a story I really wanted to get more into, but the film bounces around so many different things, that no story gets the time it deserves. The movie also has the opposite problem when certain scenes go on much longer than they should.

Miranda Bailey plays Drew, a recovering alcoholic. There’s a moment where she’s giving her handicapped brother a bath, when Kate (Drew’s lawyer) suddenly comes over to discuss her brother’s custody hearing. The point of the scene is to show that Drew, despite her past mistakes, is still capable of taking care of her brother. She even likens it to taking care of a baby, which is something on the horizon for Kate, so it gives her something to think about. But the scene goes on forever. You could have literally gotten this point across in less than two minutes!

Julie Benz as Frankie.
Photo: David Jones

The film moves slowly, which causes all the stories to wrap-up quickly with no natural build-up. Every scene is ponderous, as we watch these characters struggle and make mistakes, but then all of a sudden at the very end they are all like, ‘Oh shit, I got to do something! The movie is about to end!’ Some of the endings also succumb to ‘dumb luck,’ adding more to the laziness of the script.

Some of the major characters don’t even change, or go through any type of progression. Julie Benz as Frankie, the detective assigned to the kidnapping case, is the prime of example of this. Her character is just there, yet she gets a lot of screen time.

Even though the story is weak, a lot of the characters and performances kept me interested, and I did want to see how they would end. If some of these storylines were cut, I could have really connected with this film. Unfortunately, it’s just a little too crowded.

Rating: 6 out of 10 (‘Meh’)

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.