‘AARDVARK’ follows the story of a mentally-ill man (Quinto) who begins seeing a therapist (Slate) to help him with his personal problems when his estranged brother (Hamm) who is a television actor, comes back into town.
The cast alone was enough to peak my interest in this drama and with a promising plot, I was curious what this film would deliver. It starts out interesting as gives the impression it’s setting the foundation for the rest of the plot. The problem however, was that this feeling of building to something, lasted almost the entirety of the run-time.
There were interesting elements brushed upon, but for some reason the story written by Brian Shoaf (Bad Dates) felt like it didn’t want to commit, to anything. But rather hint at, elude to, or simply not explain at all, key aspects of the story-line that could have built some genuine intrigue. The main character played very well by Zachary Quinto, was mentally-ill. But his illness was never solidified, he was labeled ‘bipolar’ as well as ‘paranoid schizophrenic’ but they are not the same and were delivered so half-handed that it never felt like a true diagnosis. There was even a scene where a character dismissed these labels, as being the illnesses Quinto’s character had.
This uncertainty in the characters development made it hard to gauge what true emotions he was feeling, and why. As well figuring out his honest outlook on certain things that were happening to him. It also hindered the ability to fully read into whether some things were actually happening, or if they were simply hallucinations from his illness, or just figments of his imagination. With nothing set in stone as the story progresses, there is little to connect with. The characters were interesting. I wanted to get to know them better and understand their places in life, but with this story-line I didn’t feel I was able to.
Quinto’s performance was just fine. But without knowing more about him and his past, it was hard to determine if he was playing a deeper portrayal of a character. Or a simple boiler-plate persona of a man with a mental illness, which did hinder the impact of his performance, and the ability to connect with and feel compassion for his character. There was clear effort in his performance and he was engaging on more than a couple occasions. But the progression of the story, and the lack of layers in it, didn’t allow Quinto to shine like he could have, in what should have been an emotionally driven role, showcasing his range.
We learn about this therapist played by Jenny Slate from a surface level. With intentional scenes to convey the flaws in her personality and emotional state. Which are there to explain her actions later in the story, but do little else. Jon Hamm was serviceable as the older brother. He was ‘Jon Hamm’ which for this role as an actor, just so happened to work perfectly in his favor. We get hints, and little details of his past, and touches of his relationship with his brother. But still nothing of certainly to help propel things forward in a compelling way.
Sheila Vand also brought a strong performance to the film, she had a decent chemistry with Quinto, but it all comes back to the lack of depth and development. Her character was so vague it was hard to decipher if she was real, a hallucination, or what her imprint on the story was supposed to be. So the result was her just sort of being there to pop in for a couple scenes without a lot of meaning as to why.
Overall this story was confusing and hard to follow. Not because it was overly intricate. But because it was uncommitted with its intentions and story direction. Without enough context to follow along with and latch onto. Films that let its audience fill in the pieces are great for provoking thought, but the good ones give you enough substance and foundation to build your notions off of.
This film despite some potential, almost reaches the point of feeling like it was using that moniker of ‘thought-provoking cinema’ to mask an underdeveloped story that didn’t commit to the many themes it introduced. This could have been a drama that packed an emotional punch, had the characters and their dynamics been more fleshed out. But in the end it was more like the ‘Cliff Notes’ version of that more riveting story-line.