Aardvark is the first feature length film for writer/director Brian Shoaf. It is only partially salvaged by a stellar cast including Jenny Slade, Jon Hamm, and Zachary Quinto. Kudos to all of them for breathing some life into a story that goes nowhere and doesn’t have anything in particular to say.
Emily Milburton (Slade) is a therapist with questionable professional ethics who begins seeing Josh Norman (Quinto) an undefined mentally ill person who is obsessed with his brother Craig (Hamm) a famous actor. Norman claims that his brother has not visited him in years, yet Norman sees him everywhere, even on the street disguised as a homeless woman. In the beginning we are meant to believe that Craig is a figment of Norman’s mental illness, until Emily meets and engages in an affair with him. The relationships between these three individuals come to a head when Emily reveals her involvement with Craig to an emotionally fragile Norman.
The summary above is about as deep (and as interesting) as Aardvark gets. Any time you think the plot will thicken it ends up remaining as stagnant and unremarkable as it began. Almost immediately my mind began to conjure images of Norman’s mental delusions spiraling even further out of control. I questioned the reality of every person he came into contact with (including a love interest that may or may not be real, the jury is still out), and I wondered if Emily would be revealed to be just as crazy as Norman. Not only did Norman’s mental illness have little, nay, nothing to do with the overall plot of this film, but Shoaf also decided to leave out a comment about mental illness entirely. In fact, I can’t quite pinpoint what the point of this film was to begin with except to get some talented actors to star in a first feature and hope that would carry the day.
And it doesn’t, although all involved give the paper thin material as much heft as they can muster. The biggest letdown for me is Slade, an actress I really adore, reduced to playing a completely incompetent therapist. She obviously has issues of her own, but because nothing in the film really fleshes out what those issues might be, the whole performance feels wooden and aloof. What motivation does Emily have to engage in a relationship with her patient’s brother? The whole situation is as far out of left field as their initial meeting in a dark alley outside her apartment at night.
Also, the aardvark. The animal does crop up a couple of times in a flashback of Norman’s when he and his brother are at a zoo as children. To call the animal or the flashback a metaphor is being generous. It’s purpose in the film still perplexes me.
Aardvark opens today at the Ritz Bourse.
Author: Jill Malcolm
Jill is happiest attending midnight screenings with other crazy film fans at her local theater. Her other passions include reading, traveling to faraway places, cat videos, pugs, and jalapeño peppers. She is co-founder of the blog Filmhash.