There are worse sins than “trying too hard” in a romantic comedy.
With twee (precious) characters, a twee setting — the world of antiques and vintage dealers in small town Arkansas — and twee subject matter, as in getting to know your late alcoholic daddy by living in his house and taking a job at the antiques mall where he worked — “Antiquities” tries too hard on too many levels.
It’s so tart and sweet it makes your teeth hurt. But it’s cute enough to more or less come off, in a featherweight sort of way.
Walt Prior, played by Andrew J. West of TV’s “Once Upon a Time,” has come “home” to the small town where his late daddy lived, loved, worked and died. Walt’s not making a big deal out of it, but he’s in town to “live in his old house, work in his old job, go through his old things and know the people that he knew.”
So, issues? Maybe.
It’s a place with a jovial surface to it, everybody naturally assuming that the son from the big city (Little Rock) will move back here and take up Dad’s old booth at the antiques mall. Walt surprises us and possibly himself when he rejects that booth idea, but he takes on a job at that mall — which as in small towns all over America, is a long-closed department store in a half-dead downtown.
Cue the colorful cast of eccentrics that populate the place. If you’ve ever spent any time in such emporiums, you’ve seen the “types.”
There’s the bullying, oversharing unreconstructed Confederate Blundale (Roger Scott) entirely too into his Civil War dioramas.
“My Daddy…he used to WHUP me…he’d put his foot about RIGHT there on my neck and HIT me with a shovel. He was a good man.”
Dolores Jr. (Michaela Watkins) dresses in vintage accessories and drawls through her planned surgeries — nose, or a boob job first? Whatchathink, hon?
Old Coach McGee (Ryk St. Vincent) sells sports training cards and will bend your ear about the athletic exploits of anybody he played with or coached.
Jimmy Lee (Graham Gordy, who co-wrote this and is quite funny in it) is flamboyant and just closeted enough to effeminately talk up the sex appeal of any woman entering the store, like he’s fooling anyone. Or selling to anybody who visits his elaborately detailed recreation of a childhood Christmas in his home growing up. That’s his booth.
“Women like that can’t have nice things. Did you see her shoes?”
Stocky Delaney (Michael Gladis ) insists that he’s on the same training regimen as his brother, a Navy SEAL. Delaney downs those little energy drinks you find at service stations and lies like a sealskin rug.
Presiding over everyone in Sticky Vicky’s Antiques Mall is manager and antiques trader Dewey (Troy Hogan of TV’s “Queen Sugar,” an absolute stitch here). He went to high school with Blundale, and ended up marrying the crank’s mother. But back in the day, he assures Walt, he was “gettin’ more Tang than Buzz Aldrin.”
Everybody over-shares. Everyone is a trapped in their past. Everyone is presents equal degrees of difficulty when it comes to extracting yourself from a conversation with them.
You’d have to include Ellie (Ashley Greene of TV’s “Rogue” and “Pan Am” and a lot of iindie movies) in that group. Because even though she’s a world traveler and pretty enough to have never been told “no” by a guy, she’s there selling pottery in Sticky Vicky’s, sizing up and pulling the new guy’s leg.
“Delaney’s parents? First COUSINS…When I was little, I didn’t think fat people could feel things.”
Even though culture-shocked Walt “can’t tell the difference between a nice girl being flirty and a flirty girl being nice,” he takes her bait and takes his shot.
Even though he’s only been in Vicky’s mere minutes, Dewey gives him the “You’ve got that look…the look of management,” pitch. He should take over all this and let Dewey and his elderly wife Vicky retire to a life of second-hand RV travel.
“Antiquities” has the feel of a tale that’s been researched. Having dated Southern women deep into collecting and even joined them in estate sales and auctions, in “picking,” restoring and re-selling this stuff, I recognized every “type” here in an instant.
The “malls” inevitably have more clients running booths than customers, with those booth folks enjoying having each other to talk to about their specialties, their “picking” and their obsessions. There’s competition, gossip and a whole lot of reluctance to unload their most precious treasures.
And I’d swear I’ve overheard this very line (courtesy of Dolores Jr.) at an Oak Hill, Florida flea market.
“I’ve taken so much ginko I think I can hear what my neighbors are thinking.”
The hangup that all these people in the movie share is their big smiles and surface enthusiasm for the past, for their DOA business and for keeping up appearances, is all just goofy glossing over for their pain.
That’s a bit of a reach, and “Antiquities” has no business shooting for “deep” for even one second. Sentimental? Sure. The filmmakers pull that off.
It’s the goofy gloss that director and co-writer Daniel Campbell and Gordy absolutely nail — Delaney sucking on helium because it “makes me feel better when I’m depressed,” the native cunning of a small town pole dancer who knows how to take a tip when it’s not being give, the entertainment value of a small town Japanese cook-at-your-table steakhouse. He’s clumsy, and there’s a bit of the insult comic in him (David An).
“Hey stringbean, show over here. I killing myself for you.”
Mary Steenburgen has a two scene cameo as the local shrink Walt consults with, someone who keeps a chatty parrot to help her narcissistic patients hear their self-absorbed words hurled back at them in mockery.
But the standouts in the cast are Gordy, Scott, Watkins and especially Hogan, who makes every singeing admission, every stinging insult sing.
“The only toes you need to worry ’bout steppin’ on are under this desk — covered in athlete’s foot.”
Greene has a lot more to play than West, but truthfully, the leads seem like bemused anchors for the funnier characters to bounce off of. That’s sitcom writing.
With CBS exploring the revival of “Northern Exposure,” I could totally see “Antiquities” as an hour-long character comedy. “Trying too hard” doesn’t seem like a shortcoming in that format.
MPAA Rating: unrated, some profanity
Cast: Ashley Greene, Andrew J. West, Michaela Watkins, Michael Gladis and Mary Steenburgen
Credits: Directed by Daniel Campbell, script by Graham Gordy, Daniel Campbell . An Orchard release
Running time: 1:33