Eat Wheaties! isn’t necessarily a pleasant watch, but it’s committed to its abrasive vision and will likely work well for those already in its lane.
Fans of cringe comedy will find much to love about Eat Wheaties!, a film that lands on the discomfort scale somewhere near the “Scott’s Tots” episode of The Office, just to offer a basic marker. Adapted from Michael Kun’s 2003 epistolary novel The Locklear Letters, in which a middle-aged sad-sack named Sid Straw writes a series of letters to former college acquaintance Heather Locklear that causes his life to spiral out of control, writer-director Scott Abramovitch updates the action to the social media age and swaps out Locklear for Elizabeth Banks, an actress who represents just the right level of celebrity to make the proceedings somewhat believable. Sid (Tony Hale) is the type of guy who tries too hard in every aspect of his life, from making friends at the office to courting potential love interests. He is 40-something, has a mustache, wears polos and chinos, and still references “Macarena” and “Who Let the Dogs Out” in everyday conversation. Upon being named co-chair of his upcoming college reunion, Sid is reminded of the fact that he briefly befriended Banks during their shared freshman year, inspiring him to contact her through Facebook and call her agent to request a signed photograph. Unfortunately, Sid is so clueless in the ways of social media that his increasingly personal Facebook messages to the actress are actually being publicly posted to her wall, resulting in a temporary restraining order with ripple effects that cause devastating consequences in Sid’s personal life, including the loss of his job and home.
As a portrait of very particular, recognizable type of individual, Eat Wheaties! understands what makes a person like Sid simultaneously obnoxious and pitiful. On an empathic level, we can understand the mechanism of such a person’s actions and behaviors, how the need for acceptance can unfortunately manifest itself in wholly off-putting ways. On an instinctual level, however, the desire to rail against such a man is tough to overcome. Abramovitch and Hale nail the particular dichotomous response that someone like Sid inspires: equal amounts of shame and sympathy. This is not a film that tries to sand down Sid’s rougher edges, but instead wants to interrogate what brought him to such a place, and it uses his obsession with Banks as a catalyst. But it’s this commitment to honesty and authenticity that also makes Eat Wheaties! a rather unpleasant viewing experience. The middle section, in which shit truly hits the fan on a personal level for Sid, plays out like an endurance test, asking audiences how much pain and second-hand embarrassment they can handle — if viewers think things are uncomfortable at the beginning, just wait. Still, there’s something admirable in Abramovitch and co. refusing to pull their punches, and Hale is fully on board for the ride, imbuing Sid with surprising nuance. He’s ably supported by David Walton as Sid’s supportive brother and Paul Walter Hauser as a novice lawyer who defends Sid against the restraining order, and yes, in case you were wondering, this is a film that features a pivotal courtroom scene, and yes, it does play out exactly like you would expect. There’s something to be said for the wish fulfillment that is put on display, however, and particularly about how it feels legitimately earned rather than working as mere contrivance — although there is some of that, too. But Eat Wheaties! ultimately ends the way it always had to, and that feeling of wanting to tear your skin off throughout the duration of its runtime only proves its effectiveness. Its caustic nature, however, means there’s a limited audience for its pain-and-pleasure ways — you know who you are.