Fullt Realized Humans is a half-realized film, awkwardly sliding between authenticity and sitcom superficiality.
Bland but inoffensive, Joshua Leonard’s post-mumblecore rom-com Fully Realized Humans resembles nothing so much as the 2010s era of indie sitcoms on FX, stuff like Louis C.K.’s Louie and Pamela Adlon’s Better Things. Clocking in at a barely-there 76 minutes, Leonard and his co-star/co-writer Jess Weixler play Elliot and Jackie, a young-ish couple expecting their first child in a matter of weeks. After a mildly uncomfortable baby shower, during which Jackie and Elliot’s friends lay some harsh truths about parenthood on our easily befuddled couple, the duo decide that it’s time to get their emotional lives in order and become, you guessed it, fully realized humans.
Leonard and Weixler are trying to do a few things here with their screenplay, only some of which are actually successful. Mostly, it’s a comedy that’s not particularly funny. Elliot and Jackie are clearly products of years of therapy, quipping at one point that this has allowed them to articulate what’s wrong with them, but not given them the tools with which to actually fix anything. It’s a salient enough point, but as a portrait of damaged thirty-somethings, Fully Realized Humans frequently eschews messy emotions in favor of sitcom-ready shenanigans, all papered over with a cliched sheen of handheld indie-realism. In other words, this is a far cry from Cassavetes, who’s razor sharp editing rhythms would shape and mold varying degrees of improvisation and disparate acting styles into cohesive wholes. Instead, Leonard relies on goofy montages set to pop music, which only has the effect of making this already brief film feel even more padded. There’s an extended sequence where Jackie decides that she wants to peg Elliot, who reluctantly agrees in an effort to appease his wife. But even this, while seemingly a good faith effort at exploring the sex life of a long-term couple, relies on easy jokes about Elliot feeling uncomfortable in a sex shop and making an ass of himself in front of a saleswoman.
The overall impression is of the filmmakers constantly tip-toeing up to the edge of something genuine, only to retreat at the last moment; it’s all too cute, too easy. Part of the problem is that Leonard and Weixler can’t decide how likeable or unlikeable they want their couple to be. They frequently bicker over dumb minutiae and both get angry at the drop of a hat, and while there’s always room for complicated characters that test the boundaries of audience identification and empathy, it’s also evident here that the filmmakers want us to find these people funny and charming. These problems can mostly be attributed to messy writing, and the film is too short to give its fictional people any room to breathe. The last act finally settles into a nice groove, with Jackie and Elliot confronting their parents in an intervention of sorts; Jackie’s dad is a pill addict who frequently hits them up for money, and Elliot’s dad has left him with a lifetime of fear thanks to his violent temper. There are some hard truths on display, finally, as these damaged children demand some kind of penitence from their largely oblivious parents, determined not to make the same mistakes with their own child. It’s a great extended scene, even if it’s a case of too little too late. Leonard seemingly can’t help but rush to wrap the film up, dissolving any lingering tensions by playing improv outtakes over the end credits. His refusal to cross that line renders Fully Realized Humans a half-hearted sorta-comedy that can’t meaningfully contend with the very issues it purports to raise.