Movie Review: Quinto turns to Jenny Slate to gripe about brother Jon Hamm in “Aardvark”

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There’s a special corner of movie-lovers heaven for actors who burn through their Hollywood capital on quirky, challenging movies that have little commercial potential.

Zachary Quinto’s earned his place there. And Jon Hamm, with all the offbeat TV shows and goof-on-his-own-image TV commercials, as well as with films like “Nostalgia” and “Marjorie Prime” and “Aardvark,” is getting there.

In the offbeat “Aardvark,” Quinto plays Josh, a troubled soul seeking psychotherapeutic help because his brother (Hamm), an actor and “one of the greatest talents of his generation,” is back in town.

No, he’s not having suicidal thoughts, one of the first questions a new therapist or counselor asks. But when Josh runs into a bag lady on the street or a chuckling African American cop sipping latte at the coffee shop where he works, he’s pretty sure he’s dealing with brother Craig, a guy with a gift for being “utterly unrecognizable.”

He’s that good.

And our question, and one that crosses the mind of the “counselor, NOT a doctor” who sees him, is “Does this famous phantom sibling even exist?”

Emily (Jenny Slate) is full of empathy and genuinely concerned, as Josh is given to precipitous mood swings and dark turns. She’s at a loss, so she confers with her mentor “(Stephen Schnetzer).

“If he’s paying cash for you to treat him for schizophrenia, then he’s NOT schizophrenic.” Wonder if he got that out of the manual, DSM-5? And the way he brushes Emily off, coupled with her tactless exit from her book club and brittle encounter with another ex while running make us see the counselor as somebody maybe in need of a little counseling herself.

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Of course she meets the infamous Craig (Hamm). Slate is adorably, gulpingly tongue-tied and flustered upon encountering the TV hunk that we don’t have to have seen her in “Obvious Child” or “Landline” or “Gifted” to know what’s coming.

Slate has a niche worthy of a nickname – “Baroness of Bad Decisions.” Yeah, she tumbles for him.

Meanwhile, Josh’s disassociations are growing. There’s a lovely woman (Sheila Vand) who keeps crossing his path, almost flirting. He doesn’t know whether to testily push her away or charm her with his poor-dude/disturbed guy pickup lines.

You like his shirt? “I got it at a discount. It was marked ‘irregular.’ Sometimes irregular things can be just fine.”

First time feature writer-director Brian Shoaf stages some painfully awkward, sensitive and probing counseling sessions for Slate and Quinto to play.  The script has lovely snatches of dialogue and fascinating, wounded characters, which was enough to drew in the three leads.

Here’s Josh’s reaction to the homeless woman who panhandles him every night after work. “If you spend this on anything other than food, I will be heartbroken. And probably kill myself.”

But Shoaf has trouble resolving the “mystery” of the story in a convincing and satisfying way, abruptly shifting gears for a finale that feels like a cheat.

“Aardvark,” as in “one of a kind” and “odd by nature,” is still a pleasure to sit through. Credit the players for that — Slate’s winsome neediness, Quinto’s barely-functional headcase and Hamm’s up-for-anything breezy actor who gets where he wants and what he wants without ever showing a hint of effort.

They all have other work that they’ll be remembered for. But in movie-lovers’ heaven, they’re celebrated for taking chances on directors and material just like this.

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MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic issues, language, some sexuality and violence

Cast: Jenny Slate, Zachary Quinto, Jon Hamm

Credits:Written and directed by Brian Shoaf. A Great Point release.

Running time: 1:28

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