“Give or Take” is a heartfelt, often involving family comedy-drama about coming to terms with the past — and the present. If only co-writers Paul Riccio (he also directed) and Jamie Effros (he plays) had dropped some of the quirks and bits of shaggy dog from their story for a deeper, more authentic dive into the true selves of their main characters, the film could have taken off in a more distinctive and memorable way.
Another slip-up here is the casting of Effros in the lead role of Martin, a hanged dog technician who travels from New York to Cape Cod to settle the estate of his late father, Kenneth. Effros proves too bland a presence, especially in contrast to his slick and rugged co-star, two-time Tony winner Norbert Leo Butz, who plays Ted, an unruly landscaper whom Kenneth fell in love with after the death of his wife – mother of Martin – six years. years earlier.
Much of the film finds Martin and Ted fighting for Martin’s family home, which Kenneth and Ted shared together in the kind of joy and closeness that Kenneth never really had with Martin’s mother. Ted wants to stay in the house and pay for decades; Martin wants to sell him – there’s a cash offer of $1.9 million on the table – and close the chapter on his father. Not so fast.
It’s the instant fallout and reluctant ceasefire between tense Martin and grieving Ted that ultimately drives the action as Martin, hardly the most dimensional thinker, struggles to reconcile a host of personal issues. These include his longstanding resentment of his estranged father, conflicting feelings about Kenneth coming out as gay, and the mind-boggling fact that his father had become such a beloved figure to both Ted and his community. Where was this flippant guy when Martin was growing up and desperately needed him?
Ted has a lot of his own dragons to slay — money and career issues, anger, loss, aimlessness — and he acts in a way that might feel more organic if we had a better sense of who he was before he met. the elder Kenneth. Ted is potentially a much more interesting character than Martin, but the script too often has them both floating on the surface. We tend to get more bullet points than fine points, especially on things like Martin’s hovering homophobia, his relationship with his unlikely girlfriend Lauren (Annapurna Sriram), and Kenneth’s clearly complicated history.
Still, there are enough relatable dynamics and situations here, along with a few decent laughs, to keep us invested in the film’s sometimes familiar if not always predictable journey. Note: A good 10 minute cut could have backed things up nicely.
On the supporting side, there are gripping turns from Joanne Tucker as Martin’s former friend and crush, Louis Cancelmi as a free-spirited pool cleaner, Cheri Oteri playing a relentless real estate agent and Jaden Waldman as as an anxious neighbor child.
Cape Cod’s off-season locations are evocatively captured by cinematographer Federico Cantini.
‘Give or take’
Operating time: 1 hour, 43 minutes
Playing: Begins Feb. 11, Laemmle Royal, West Los Angeles; available February 22 on VOD