The Baxter: Review

While I have always loved movies, Netflix has certainly been a major enabler of my obsession. And with so much streaming content, that is true now more than ever. It allows me to rent basically any movie available from the comfort of my couch. Epic. Because of this ease, and no pressure renting (almost zero marginal cost!) I’ll just go and watch a movie the prize-winning Netflix algorithm has recommended to me.

Unfortunately, in this case, it was The Baxter. I say unfortunately because The Baxter is not an especially good movie. It has a somewhat clever concept, that the hero of this movie is usually the one who gets dumped in the climactic scene of a romantic comedy, but not much else. Sadly, it doesn’t do much to capitalize on that premise.

Elliot Sherman is a so-called “Baxter,” which is apparently a term the film made up to describe these people who are left at the altar or otherwise dumped for true love. As a result, he has been dumped for ex-boyfriends in the most ridiculous and cliche ways. However, it is easy to understand why. Elliot is really boring, and he makes every scene drag. There is no interesting center to his character that make the audience–or a girlfriend– want to stick around for the ending. It makes the proceedings just kind of trudge along to their forgone conclusion as there were few times in the film I was rooting for Eliot, except out of pity. The rest of the acting is pretty bland too, and even the usually great Michael Ian Black even feels stilted. There are two standouts in the cast however: Michelle Williams is absolutely adorable as the atrociously-named Cecil Mills, a hipster chick extraordinaire, possible MPDG, and Eliot’s true love interest, and Peter Dinklage, as a gay wedding planner, is a scene stealer.

Our protagonist is about to marry Caroline Swann, who seems to be suspiciously out of his league, as she’s the editor-in-chief of a huge magazine and gorgeous. Shortly after the engagement, or close to the wedding (the timeline of this film feels off), he finds out about her high school sweetheart, Bradley, who is coincidentally in town trying to win her back. Eliot gets paranoid and freaks out because of his past. He relates this to Cecil, who was formerly a temp in his office, in a chance elevator encounter. Cecil has some advice, but has to exit the elevator before she can give it him. They meet up a club later, and she tells him her advice, “take more risks.” And probably urging him to follow that advice, Cecil sends him all the signals he should need to kiss her, but Eliot is oblivious.

He offers to return the favor whenever she might need it, and of course she has a fight with her boyfriend that night and must sleep on his pull out couch. And of course, Caroline has to show up with the wedding planner to Eliot’s apartment the next morning to review a wedding planning questionnaire that he didn’t fill out because he was out with Cecil. And Cecil is still in the apartment! Eliot and Caroline fight, and she breaks up with him. This was the best scene in the movie, and felt like an old time romantic comedy or a Frasier episode (everyone hides in the powder room!).

After a couple other weird scenes, including Eliot meeting Cecil’s boyfriend (Paul Rudd) who is old pals with Bradley, and Eliot contemplating suicide, he finally decides a a grand gesture is in order to win Caroline once and for all. He shows up at her apartment to take her out to the fanciest French restaurant in town, with chocolates she won’t eat and flowers that are too stiff or something. But what does he find? Bradley playing the sympathy card over breaking up with his girlfriend. Bradley usurps Eliot’s plan and they go as a threesome to a small burger joint instead. After a tense dinner, including a bathroom call to Cecil and Eliot speechifying to Caroline about how he is trying to change, they go dancing. Eliot finally wins back Caroline by getting kicked in the face by Bradley during a dance off (or maybe because Bradley announces he is going back to Europe the next day?).

Cecil is distraught, because she obviously knows that Eliot should be with her instead and her boyfriend is moving to Cincinnati and she supposes she should follow because she too is a “Baxter.’ And she is proven right, as Bradley interrupts the wedding (as Eliot is about object anyway) and Eliot rushes to find Cecil before it is too late. In a cute twist, we hear Paul Rudd’s narration during the credits, claiming how he is the Baxter and using Eliot as the protagonist who gets the girl. This is probably the best implementation of the premise.

Also of note is the very hipster milieux. Cecil is certainly a hipster, by dress and activity, and so are Michael Ian Black’s character and his girlfriend. Eliot certainly dresses the way some hipsters might, with vests and lots of neutrals. He’s just missing some oversize plastic  Accordingly, the film mainly takes place in Brooklyn, the most hipster of boroughs. I imagine the milieux and the genre were the main reason for the Netflix recommendation.

And really, the premise here is actually pretty thin if you think about it carefully. The protagonist is usually the nice guy who gets a little risky, or the jerk who gets reformed by the end. The guy that gets dumped is usually the bigger jerk, or the epitome of douchebaggery (think Owen Wilson in Meet the Parents or the entire male cast of There’s Something About Mary). Elliot is not a douchebag by a long shot. If there’s a reason he doesn’t get the girl, it’s because he plays it too safe, and as a result, is a boring clod.

Now this wouldn’t be a bad movie if the acting were better, or Eliot were a more interesting protagonist. As in someone who seems boring, but has a passion for old jazz records or something. In it’s favor, the film has a message not often seen in romantic comedies, but is actually sound advice.  ‘True love is more likely to be found with someone who likes you for who you are,’ and, ‘don’t date someone because you feel like you’re ‘supposed to.” That is, who society thinks is the most desirable mate. They may not always be the one for you. These are good messages, I think, but again, Eliot, while unlucky, certainly earns his fair share of dumping. If love is a battleground, it’s no good being a pacifist.

Overall, if you read this review and think you might enjoy it, definitely check it out. It may not be quite my movie, but you might enjoy it despite it’s even keel.