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Upon its release, The Ex had all the surefire signs of a movie that should have gone straight to video. Zach Braff, who will forever suffer from comparisons with his Scrubs character, J.D., and Arrested Development's Jason Bateman star in the film. Both are actors who have thrived within the framework of television have struggled to find their niche on the big screen, which is never a good omen for success. But the film, just released on DVD after an unmemorable theatrical run, is actually a surprisingly good comedy, both silly and smart, and one that makes you laugh despite recognizing all the cues designed to trigger giggles.
The plot unfolds rapidly, drawing equally from the Owen Wilson-ex-boyfriend story thread from Meet the Parents and any Farrelly Brothers movie. Braff plays a struggling chef in his early 30s named Tom, married to the lovely Amanda Peet (Sofia) and fired from his job (by the always funny Paul Rudd, in a cameo) just before the couple gives birth to a baby boy. Forced to move back to Ohio, Tom takes a job at an ad agency run by Sofia's father, played by Charles Grodin. Grodin and Mia Farrow, who plays his wife, do a good job of playing it fairly straight, keeping away from the clichés so easily inhabited in these roles. After a few slip-ups, Tom scores an ad campaign success based around a neighbor kid who can swallow a hamburger whole and is then partnered with the wheelchair-bound Bateman (Chip), an ex-boyfriend of Sofia's who's an obnoxious go-getter with his sights set on ruining Tom and stealing his wife.
Sure, this isn't exactly the most original plot in the world, but director Jesse Peretz injects it with just the right amount of slapstick and a host of wry, effective jokes. Braff's persona seems to stay the same in every role he takes on, a kind of "aw, shucks" guy who plays it cute and self-effacing. But this serves him well in The Ex. When he and Peet first enter the Ohio neighborhood they'll reside in, Braff deadpans, "There's a lot of white people in this neighborhood." It's simple, subtle and funny, thanks to his earnest delivery. The tension between Tom and Chip consists mostly of embarrassing gaffes and one-upmanship, only turning into silly physical comedy when Tom tries to prove that Chip is faking his handicap by throwing him down a flight of stairs. But such moments remain the exception. Grodin is a surprising force in the film, juxtaposing his calm demeanor with a hilarious outburst when he touches a hot lamp on his desk, revealing a bluster of rage beneath his serene veneer. The rest of the cast, including Donal Logue, Fred Armisen, and Amy Poehler, are all lively in their smaller roles.
The Ex is a concise package of comedy that is, at under 90 minutes, a perfect amount of time to set up the plot, bang out the jokes, and wrap things up. Never trying to be more than what it is - an entertaining and satisfying diversion - Peretz has successfully crafted a light comedy that should advance this director onto bigger and better things. SEE ALSO: www.theexmovie.com
Jonah Flicker writes, lives, drinks, eats, and consumes music in New York, via Los Angeles. He once received a fortune in a fortune cookie that stated the following: "Soon, a visitor shall delight you." He's still waiting.
See other articles by Jonah Flicker.
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