The Argument, a comedy of manners from director Robert Schwartzman (The Unicorn) and screenwriter Zac Stanford (The Chumscrubber), proves that sometimes a movie has to sink low in order to come out on top.
After a dinner party is sabotaged by jealousy, alleged lovebirds Jack (Dan Fogler) and Lisa (Emma Bell) have a disagreement over a sarcastic exchange. After some late-night bickering, the couple decides to reenact the evening to find out who’s in the right, unbeknownst to their guests (Danny Pudi, Maggie Q, Tyler James Williams, Cleopatra Coleman) who are equally self-centred. As the redo resurfaces unsettled emotions for Jack and Lisa and weird déjà vu for their friends, the bitter lovers decide to repeat the temperamental party until they get the satisfaction they’re looking for.
Once the audience gets to know these characters and the reenactment becomes more habitual, The Argument starts to trip over its premise. These egocentric friends would not care about the central disagreement because it doesn’t involve them, and they certainly wouldn’t occupy their evenings to settle such a petty issue. This might be why Jack and Lisa withhold their plans from their guests after inviting them to this therapeutic experiment, but the charade is so obvious that keeping it a secret distracts movie goers away from the plot. But, the evening keeps on happening and the friends keep on coming back. Well all except Maggie Q’s Sarah, whose deadpan character (who coincidentally has a photographic memory) leaves out of frustration because she’s balancing a busy work schedule with this nonsense. The audience appreciates her common sense (and her blow-up), and she’s sorely missed when she leaves the story.
This farce is stretched extremely thin, and then some. But as the film approaches its final third, The Argument finds its second wind. Jack, an unmotivated writer, decides to transcribe the evening and format it into a script. With everyone in attendance (except for Sarah), Jack holds a cold reading with actors he’s acquired through Craigslist (Karan Brar, Charlotte McKinney, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Marielle Scott, Mark Ryder). This is a rare case where adding more characters benefits the material. The hired actors are intentionally (and hilariously) wooden as they plod through Jack’s biased script. The film’s satire of self-serious performers isn’t anything new, but the new supporting cast puts an amusing spin on their amateurs. The reactions from the narcissistic peanut gallery are just as funny. There is not one missed note or flat joke, and the conflict keeps escalating to stunning degrees. Maggie Q even finds her way back into the movie after learning that, because of her absence, she’s being portrayed by a sock puppet.
The movie features one of the most impressive rebounds ever made by a production. For that effort, plus some well delivered wit, it isn’t debatable that The Argument deserves your attention.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie