Disfunctional families. We all know one, maybe even live in one. They are certainly the fodder for endless films whether they be gritty noir flicks, lost in the complexity of modern day society films or gay holiday affairs, we’ve all seen them and watched, fascinated, like that horrible wreck on the side of the road.
Writer/director Jesse Eisenberg has taken the subject on with his directorial debut in “When You Finish Saving the World.”
Ziggy (Finn Wolfhard – “Stranger Things”) is a vacuous teen who has found a niche for himself writing and singing vacuous songs for his vacuous followers on his internet channel. He wasn’t always like that, but he grew into it. His mother, Evelyn (Julianne Moore – “Crazy, Stupid, Love”), runs a battered family shelter and support program, but is a by-the-book social worker who lacks real empathy for anyone. And there is his dad, Roger (Jay O. Sanders – “Edge of Darkness”), who likes to read and, without any self awareness, declares the rest of his family “narcissists”.
Ziggy and Evelyn have no interests in common, and no desire to try to understand each other.
Things heat up when Ziggy is attracted to a girl, Lila (Alisha Boe – “Do Revenge”), in his high school class. She and her friends engage in highly-animated discussions of many different things, including social issues and politics. These are subjects alien to Ziggy, who only cares about writing songs and performing them for his 20K internet followers. He finds Lila’s intelligence attractive, but he repeatedly displays his ignorance and self-centeredness.
At the same time, Evelyn, as supervisor at the shelter, meets a mother and teenage son (attending the same school as Ziggy) who have come to the shelter to escape an abusive father. She sees things in the boy, Kyle (Billy Bryk – “Crisis”), that she wishes were in her own son, and then sets out to “evolve” the working class lad into what she dreams he should be. This process perhaps mirrors what she tried to do to Ziggy, only alienating him in the process.
There is a subtle humor that runs through the whole film, a sort of, “Just look at how these silly people are making themselves miserable by not accepting what they are and what they could be to each other.” Ziggy’s attempts to make himself desirable to Lila are funny and cringe-worthy. Evelyn’s efforts to almost rope Kyle into her plans for him are more creepy than heartfelt or funny. And Roger is sunk so far in his own interests, without any regard to how they impact the rest of the family, that he’ll never come up for air.
Despite all this, under the surface, there is the very human yearning for connection, meaning, and value that Eisenberg has written into his two principal characters.
This is a small and surprisingly delicate film worth taking a look at. A good first effort by Jesse Eisenberg. I hope we shall see more from him behind the camera.
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