Modest Sundance hit The Answer Man is one of those films that seems to erase itself from your memory days after seeing it. It’s a hokey romantic comedy, a passable, easy to stomach picture that brings up some mildly interesting ruminations on faith and spirituality, but fails to explore them with any depth. The film follows Philly resident Arlen Faber (Jeff Daniels), author of the ostensibly groundbreaking novel Me & God, basically a Q & A with the creator himself. Twenty years after his first and only book’s release, we find Faber to be an inexplicably cranky, out of touch individual, secluded and spending his days reading, reluctantly sifting through copious fan mail and praying surrounded by candles. Elizabeth (Lauren Graham) is an uptight single mom, raising her son Alex (Max Antisell) and running her own chiropractor’s office. And Kris (Lou Taylor Pucci, grown up since his Thumbsucker days), recently released from rehab, is looking to start fresh by reinvigorating a small book store he owns, and by mending his relationship with his father (Thomas Roy). All three individuals’ plot-lines eventually intertwine when Kris looks to Arlen for advice and Arlen looks to Elizabeth for back treatment, finding himself attracted to her. You know the drill.
After a clever title sequence which gives the audience a feel for the importance of Arlen’s work, with shots of articles and magazine covers devoted to Me & God’s success, the three main characters are introduced clumsily, and through plain unfunny exposition. But this is Answer Man’s lowest point, and the film does get a bit better as it progresses. Also, first-time director John Hindman coaxes a generally endearing performance from Daniels, whose comedic skill is considerably better utilized here than his dramatic range. The same can’t be said of Graham who, opposite Daniels, is never better than average; her character should run the gamut of emotions, but the actress remains blank-faced for practically the entire 95-minute runtime. This sours any chemistry the film may of achieved, as we wonder why Arlen would forsake his solitude for someone as dreary as Elizabeth. There is, however, something to the film’s attempt at examining spirituality and Christianity (brought up very briefly during a speech Arlen delivers late in the film). But this thematic element never really goes anywhere, and it ends up being frustrating that a romantic comedy with the potential to actually be thought provoking opts instead, primarily, for gooey sentiment and predictable genre tropes. In other words, The Answer Man, ironically, shows no interest in providing answers.