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THE BAXTER (PG-13) (2005)

IFC Films

Official Site

Director: Michael Showalter

Producers: Celine Rattray, Reagan Silber, Galt Niederhoffer, Daniela Taplin Lundberg

Written by: Michael Showalter

Cast: Michael Showalter, Elizabeth Banks, Justin Theroux, Michelle Williams, Michael Ian Black, Peter Dinklage, Paul Rudd, Zak Orth, David Wain, Catherine Lloyd Burns


I walked into the theater with Stella in mind. Yes, I watch enough Comedy Central to have seen that bizarre show starring Michael (Black), Michael (Showalter), and David (Wain). The comedy on that show is particularly dumb, in the honorable tradition of Three Stooges, and I was very worried that The Baxter would be something like that. But it wasn’t. Michael Showalter wrote and directed this project, and he did not intend to make a dumb movie. The Baxter is incredibly well written, in addition to directed, performed, and whatever else that makes a good movie. It’s a unique story with a new perspective on the romantic comedy. The way Cannibal! The Musical made fun of musicals by making a hilarious musical, The Baxter makes fun of rom-coms by making a hilarious rom-com.

The Baxter (Elliot Sherman, played by Showalter) is about to get married to Caroline (Banks), the woman who doesn’t love him. He tells you about why he’s in this situation. He recalls the morning he met Caroline at the office, where he works as an accountant. Dressing the part of the Baxter, that bland, unexciting individual who has no spontaneity or intuition (a.k.a. unromantic), with a tweed-inspired wardrobe, he sheepishly welcomes her with dorky behavior and bad jokes. She came to meet him as a client, and she left as a date. But more importantly, he met Cecil (Williams) that very morning too, the girl he should have gone on a date with. But, to his unknowing misfortune, he and Caroline hit it off, and they get engaged. The chemistry between them was so non-reactive that it could be used as flame retardant. Before the wedding, however, Caroline again met Bradley (Theroux), the real love of her life. Suddenly The Baxter realizes that it’s happening again. Again he’s going to succumb to the fate of The Baxter, to be the loser in love. Cecil needs to show him, however, that there is no such thing as a Baxter, and that we can all know love.

Michael Showalter knows funny. The characters in this story are hilarious. It’s an honest sort of quirky that makes each one a great, effective application of comedic energy. Elliot and Cecil are dorks (sometimes too much so on Elliot’s part), Caroline and Bradley are oversensitive, and Elliot’s neighbors are just freaks. Only David Wain seemed underdeveloped. The story itself is just brilliant, with many characters beautifully woven together. They are for the most part completely one-dimensional in their own funny way, but Elliot is more than just a bore. He may be a dork, but he has hope. His life story goes through the stories of many romantic comedies, except that he’s always on the ass end of the movie. Seeing him blankly sit by the departure of one woman after another to the other guy strikes a very funny sort of sad. On top of that, The Baxter really is a touching story beneath all the humor. You’ve got to make a touching story if you’re gonna make a romantic comedy.

Following The 40-Year-Old Virgin by a few weeks means you can see the two funniest comedies ever in the same theater. I don’t necessarily recommend that, I’m just throwing it out as a possibility. I won’t lie, The 40-Year-Old Virgin is funnier (for those of you that care), but that’s just because it got to be dirty as all hell. Note the PG-13 rating on The Baxter. I’d like to challenge anyone to name a funnier movie that can carry a PG-13 rating. There’s probably one out there, but I can’t name it. I’d be excited to hear of a funnier movie anyway.

—Duncan Wright

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

Take a pal and pay full price for both tickets.

Itís worth a full-price ticket.

Itís worth a matinee ticket.

Wait for video rental.

Check out the video from the library, if you must.

While we would never encourage anyone to destroy a video...

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