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A reclusive author of a well-known spiritual guidance book falls for a sensible chiropractor and learns some important life lessons as he begins to face the public and his past.
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An art film that tries too hard to be an art film, The Answer Man has an interesting plot but the execution lacks a pulse, compelling characters and an engaging story. There are one too many clichés to go unnoticed and the characters say the right, and wrong, things every moment. Jeff Daniels plays Arlen Faber, a popular author who wrote “God & Me,” a book which gained notoriety because of a conversation the “me” has with God. But while there are some spiritual elements to the film, none of it means anything, and we’re left with a poorly contrived (the whole film feels contrived) romantic comedy that makes you want to denounce love altogether.
Arlen Faber is a socially awkward man. He keeps to himself and he likes it that way. Arlen keeps his name private to avoid getting spotted, but when he pulls his back out, he has no other choice but to crawl (yes, crawl) his way to a chiropractor’s office where he has to use his real name.
His doctor is Elizabeth (Graham), who has no clue who he is, but her receptionist Anne (Thirlby) remembers the name. His book was so popular that even young 20 years old are familiar with Arlen’s work. But at no point in the film does anyone even quote something from the novel, mention exactly what it is they like about it, or even give us the vaguest idea as to why the book has been on everyone’s must read list for the last 20 years.
Arlen is a foul mouth angry man who changes over the course of the film as he becomes involved with several people’s lives including Elizabeth and her son, Alex. But here’s the problem, Elizabeth is a mild manner person with a child, and here comes this obnoxious guy with a hint of charisma and suddenly she’s smitten with him. How? It seems out of her character to go for a guy like him.
Arlen also develops a friendship with a bookstore owner named Kris (Pucci) who has his own problems and seeks guidance from Arlen, of all people. The more Arlen develops new relationships with his new friends, the more he starts to reexamine his life from a fresh perspective.
However Arlen’s transformation into a better man comes too quickly and we never really see how the switch in character happens. At what point did he decide to become a better man. Director John Hindman never explores that idea, Arlen is simply going by script and that’s the problem with The Answer Man. It has potential and Daniels does a solid job as Arlen, but neither the character nor the story transcend into something more. The film just follows the standards and conventions of romantic comedies recycling old clichés that you wouldn’t even see in an old Doris Day film.
In fact I would say the film is a pretentious and the characters, although likeable, are not genuine or real. There’s a lot that could have been done here, but we get something that has been seen in other indie films that have not only done it better brought about a fresh take on a genre that has been around since the days of Frank Capra in It Happened One Night, and still no one can do it quite as great as he did.