The Answer Man (Arlen Faber) review – a tale once told; told again!
When you watch the trailer for The Answer Man (also known as Arlen Faber) you get the feeling you are watching another adaptation of Finding Forrester along with a smattering of As Good as It Gets. That is no bad thing as both of those films are highly entertaining and thoughtful.
Helmed by John Hindman (his directorial debut), the story is led by the unusually named character of Arlen Faber (Jeff Daniels). Daniels is accompanied by Lauren Grahams and Lou Taylor Pucci in a tale that focuses on the questions and not the answers.
A reclusive author of a spiritual book is pursued for advice by a single mother and a man fresh out of rehab.
So Daniels is on top form as the ever-grumpy Faber who has completely lost hope on life. He plays most of the film with conviction (with the exception of the final scene) and his dynamic with Graham is oddly endearing.
The Answer Man seems to throw away the subject of sex (a welcome change) and focuses on the many questions we have in day to day life. Throughout the film you are offered some advice through dialogue which is told with conviction which is insightful.
Most unusually it highlights something quite new in film and that is the facade that is put on when you first meet someone. I don’t necessarily mean the blatant lies told in your usual romance story but the subtle character alterations which we all make when first dating someone. The film follows these “best behaviour” moments and allows you to see what is likely to become from two people who initially hide their flaws.
As the story unfolds its similarities to As Good as it Gets and Finding Forrester become evident. This is unfortunate as you cannot help but compare it to them. The romance part of the plot is comfortable but never challenging and by the end of the film you hope for something a little more substantial.
Similarly the friendship between a recovering alcoholic (Taylor Pucci) and Daniels is under-told somewhat as you feel as if much more could be said on the matter. Taylor Pucci plays Kris Lucas as well as you could expect and his question/answer scenes with Daniels are amongst the best in the film.
It is this then which lets The Answer Man down. If only they had focussed on a friendship between two men who have given up on life this would be much better. If they had focussed on the relationship between Lauren Graham’s character and Daniels, it would also have been better. Unfortunately it seems that the writer (also John Hindman) manages to spread the story a little too thinly. No one character has enough screen time (even the ever-grumpy main character). With this thin spreading of plot it is hard to find a great deal of empathy for any of them. Don’t get me wrong, The Answer Man is still a good watch and amusing throughout. However by the unsatisfactory ending you just wish for so much more.
The Answer Man is likely to be a film you catch (sometime in the future) on a Sunday afternoon TV schedule. I promise that if you watch this film you’ll enjoy it. However just because you find a Sunday afternoon film to be good doesn’t mean it is highly recommended. If only a little more time and development was to be made on it, then The Answer Man could have outshone the films that came before it. As it is, the film is worth a watch and only brushing on the positive edge of good.
Nothing that you’re likely to remember here; certainly not as entertaining as As Good as it Gets; but an interesting watch nonetheless. Jeff Daniels plays the grumpy old man well and the supporting actors are more than adequate. Unfortunately the use of emotion in the film is completely underused (for the subject matter) and with an unsatisfactory ending you are likely to feel a little underwhelmed.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5