- Bernie Goldmann, Melisa Wallack
- Aaron Eckhart, Jessica Alba, Elizabeth Banks, Timothy Olyphant, Logan Lerman
- 97 min.
- Release Date
How much you like Meet Bill depends on your willingness to disregard the film’s many inconsistencies. Here’s a suggestion: Focus on the comedy’s basic ability to induce circumstantial laughs, distracting from the meandering plot and characters. Beyond the slight credit deserved for provoking an occasional chuckle, the film subsists as an assemblage of unused devices and squandered possibility. Given the multitude of pathways this comedy could take with its setup, I kept wondering which direction it would go. As it turns out, the story remains uneventfully stationary…
Bill’s position as a Minnesota bank’s vice president of human resources doesn’t mean what it should; he’s constantly reminded he’s expendable. Married to Jess (Elizabeth Banks), the bank president’s daughter, his job was created to benefit their marriage. Bill knows this, and substitutes his lacking self-worth with Snicker bars by the mouthful. A forced, round belly hangs over his belt like a half-deflated basketball. His limp hair rests on his forehead waiting to be combed back. But Bill has dreams, namely to buy into a doughnut franchise owned by SNL players Kristen Wiig and Jason Sudeikis; if only he had guts enough to ask his wife to cosign.
Doing so becomes impossible when Bill discovers his wife’s affair with local newsman, the oddly plastic Chip Johnson (Timothy Olyphant). Caught on camera attacking Chip, Bill is publically labeled a “deranged fan” much to the enjoyment of his mentoree, a teenage hipster and pseudo-Ferris Bueller credited only as “The Kid” (Logan Lerman). Being The Kid’s mentor is pointless with Bill’s personal problems, so their teacher-student roles switch, with our frumpy hero taking instruction from a has-it-all-together teen. The Kid devises a plan: set Bill up with “hottie” lingerie salesgirl Lucy (Jessica Alba) to re-wrangle his wife using foreseeable jealousy.
Structure refuses to coagulate between any of these people, and none of the potential relationships pan out. The Kid’s near-statutory attraction to Lucy proves awkward, altogether meaningless for Bill’s adventure of self-discovery. And Alba is curiously just a background note, even though she received second billing. Bill takes refuge with his homosexual brother (Craig Bierko) and his partner, both there as mere garnish. Jess insists on cold, almost cartoonishly unloving behavior, making Bill’s struggle to win her back wasted time for the viewer. Upon reflection, each character is painfully quirky; except, there are enough quirks to go around with Bill alone. If only someone, anyone, was playing the straight man or woman…
“Progress” doesn’t occur for Bill until the final moments when he inexplicably has an epiphany. What causes said epiphany remains unknown. Eckhart’s role, however pathetic and unlikable, single-handedly retains whatever consistency might exist inside this confused little movie. Offering comic range rivaling his performances in Thank You for Smoking and In the Company of Men, Eckhart is everywhere here, which is sometimes good and sometimes bad.
The film has one redeemable feature (besides Eckhart): Living in Minnesota where the film is set (despite filming in Missouri), I can attest to the authentic celebrity representation of newscaster Chip Johnson. There’s something about Minnesotans—we love to idolatrize our newspeople (I keep waiting for the paparazzi to discover our NBC-affiliate’s metrosexual weatherman Sven Sundgaard and his wily antics, but no such luck). Debuting on the festival circuit last year with cold receptions all around, Meet Bill was doomed to a wide release almost exclusively to Minnesota, so that we Minnesotans might point in overzealous awe when we see the subtly-added MN license plates and “Twin Cities Realty” sign.
Written by first-time screenwriter Melisa Wallack and directed by her and her husband, 300 and Land of the Dead producer Bernie Goldmann, perhaps this comedy’s bumpy quality derives from two first-time directors, both Minnesotans, trying to reconcile two separate visions. Or perhaps simple inexperience should take the blame. Desperate to amalgamate melancholy life lesson poems like About Schmidt with quirky find-yourself satires like American Beauty, Wallack and Goldmann’s thesis goes bye-bye somewhere in between. Too many of the aforementioned elements go nowhere, begging us to question why they were introduced in the first place.