If a movie paints itself into a corner in its first few minutes, it rarely finds anywhere interesting to go. Barry Munday, the directorial debut of Chris D'Arienzo, is an exception, transcending a familiar plot with sharp dialogue and awkward grace.
The film, which had its world premiere at SXSW on Saturday, features the titular character (Patrick Wilson) declaring that he has unexpectedly lost his testicles. Where can you go from there? Barry is a rather tiresome, self-imagined ladies' man, flirting horribly with female co-workers and heading out to chain restaurants for drinks with his buddy to try and score chicks. Somehow he makes conquests on a regular basis, presumably with women who are even more desperate than he is, hoping that meaningless sexual encounters will fill up the emptiness of their lives.
In the midst of his latest pickup with an aggressive younger woman, he is attacked and loses his most prized possessions (as described by Frank Turner Hollan, who wrote the novel on which the film is based, in the post-screening Q&A). Post-recovery, things become even more dire when he is served with a paternity claim from a one-night stand he can't remember. Played by Judy Greer, initially unrecognizable beneath huge spectacles and dowdy clothing, Ginger turns out to be a virgin harridan, exceedingly unpleasant and resistant to any of Barry's remorse-filled entreaties.
Neither character appears to be the sort to build a movie on, what with Barry's hollow soul and Ginger's sour attitude. However, as they spend more time together at Barry's gentle insistence and get to know each other's families, their hidden qualities and insecurities bubble to the surface. It helps that their family members are played by veterans Malcolm McDowell, Cybill Shepherd, Jean Smart, and Chloe Sevigny, the latter at her most playfully smoldering. Billy Dee Williams also contributes a nice bit as Barry's boss.
It would be easy to dismiss the film as an indie-minded Knocked Up imitator, except that Life is a Strange Place, Hollon's novel, was published in 2003. And the story is much less about a man-child and the prospect of fatherhood than it is about a man-child and manhood itself.
With his testicles gone and his girl-chasing a thing of the past, Barry has to rebuild his life. For the first time ever, he stops to examine himself, and doesn't particularly like what he sees. He doesn't transform into some superior version of himself -- he remains a bit dim, with limited imagination -- yet through his stiff, naive attempts to take responsibility for his child, he starts to act more responsibly, and breaks down Ginger's defenses as well.
Primarily, though, Barry Munday is a comedy, and Wilson and Greer deliver good performances that maintain their appeal even as they (sometimes) act horribly toward other people.